"Vision of A New Culture"
The Great Learning

 

Mother Russia

Introduction

1. Until now the Mother principle was - more or less - limited to spirituality, religion and psychology only. However, "the Mother" often has far reaching consequences for the culture as well. First of all, there is this hypothesis about archaic matriarchal societies. People who favor this theory are trying to prove, that the findings of (dominant) Mother Worship automatically implies a corresponding social structure. Others don't agree with this, saying that Mother worship can be seen as entirely belonging to the religious realm only. Our position is slightly in favor of the first. One of the reasons is that in pre-historic times there wasn't any division of society. Mother Worship certainly was accompanied by mothers occupying a central position in society. Not in all societies of course. Sometimes certain tribes were patriarchal right from the start. Looking at the very ancient texts of Sumer, Babylon and Egypt though, not to speak of numerous others, quite seriously indicate, that women held a privileged position. Very often goddesses were queens and vice-versa, with the male king only acting as Her executive. In some cultures the Mother has played a considerable role in political movements e.g. uprisings, like in China. While in others - like in India - She is still interwoven with everyday life. The common denominator of these latest examples is, that the Mother is being identified as the Earth Mother in opposition to the Heavenly Father. In Europe no country could be better representing this phenomenon than Russia.

Mother Russia    

2. In her very revealing essay "The Worship of Mother Earth in Russian Culture"*, Joanna Hubbs tries to describe "how in religion, folk custom and lore, literature, and social structure, the centricity of the worship of the feminine, though aboriginal, is challenged, modified, but never eliminated". I will give a summary of her arguments. First of all, there are indications, that Russia could have been a cradleland for the cult of the maternal goddess. Excavation of pre-historic sites are quite unanimous about that. What is important here is, that those communities were all tied to the land, whether they were hunters or farmers. Only later in history, with the incursions of nomadic tribes (Indo-Europeans) the situation was changing. As in almost all other places in Europe, these invaders soon started to dominate the existing agricultural cultures. Hence, the Great Goddess was replaced by masculine deities. The overall pattern was the dominance of an active, fertilizing "sky god" over a passive, receiving maternal soil. The surprising thing about Russia - contrary to Western Europe - is that this ancient division between paternal rulers and maternal oppressed can still be observed until this very day. The first representing the intelligentsia, power, politics, reason and the city, the second the countryside, the earth, women and emotion.

* In J.Preston "Mother Worship", 1982 North Carolina University Press

3. J. Hubbs continues by giving several examples of remaining "Mother consciousness" in Russian society. First of all, the "central role of a feminine deity worshipped by a peasant aboriginal population is suggested in the motifs of Russian pre-revolutionary folk art, like wood carvings, embroidery, house decorations and jewelry". Especially, images in which a goddess is the central figure, with representatives of the ruling class as servants suggest, that "the peasants appear to have denied, that their rulers governed the earth or had even established a dominant order". Is it too daring to say, that this dichotomy is still a fact today, not only in Russia, but on a worldwide scale? Aren't the agricultural communities of the Third World challenging the (patriarchal) affluent societies of the West, to seriously share their wealth with the poor? Anyway, in Russia, the influence of the Mother could even hold against the (forceful) conversion of the Russian population to Christianity. The Russian Orthodoxy not only stresses the sacredness of nature, but also is giving Mary (and Sophia) positions, which very much come near to the one the Great Mother once possessed. Christ on the other hand resembles the dying and reviving vegetation god. This comparison is extended to the the country as a whole, considered to be an "unhappy marriage between Mother Russia and Father Tsar (Kremlin)". The great nineteen-century intellectuals and poets all struggled with their sense of alienation: "above all, there emerges the idea of a woman, or some ineffable feminine force, who would lead the anguished intellectuals to salvation, an idea that obsessed the literary imagination before and after the Revolution". It shows, that the idea of a maternal earth-connected peasantry - consisting of subsistence, fertility and affluence - being controlled and exploited by a patriarchal ruling elite, is still very much alive in Russia*.

* Strongly recommended: J.Hubbs "Mother Russia", The Feminine Myth in Russian Culture, 1993 Indiana University Press. Furthermore: A.Pushkin "Eugene Onegin", "The Queen of Spades" and "The Bronze Horseman"; F. Dostodjevski "The Possessed"; L.Tolstoi "Father Sergius"; M.Gorki "Childhood", "Mother" and A.Solzhenitsyn "Matriona's Home".

"In fact, the Russian Mother of God is not merely the vessel for the Lord; She is the universal Mother and Mistress of all things"
J.Hubbs

4. In an unprecedented way J.Hubbs describes the step by step process by which patriarchy eliminated the dominance of the narod - the maternal clan - the mothers and the goddess. Through this story we have a better understanding of a similar process, that happened in the West many centuries earlier. The latter did it more thorough though, culminating in the horrifying witch hunt of the Middle Ages and "Renaissance". Womanhood never recovered from this blow. It is a the major difference between the West and Russia. Hence, in the former masculine dominance being much more outspoken, cold, blunt, rational, calculating and cruel. It is an old Russian wisdom, that masculinity, once breaking out of the traditional context, like family, clan, cosmology and earth religion, will go rampant. Rather than fitting in into the Whole, it tries to submit, dominate and exploit it. That is exactly what happened. Lacking a (maternal) home and ruthless expansion are two sides of the same coin. Never satisfied, Western powers went on conquering territories oversees. Compared to the West the peoples of the world are more gentle, traditional and earth bound: they are "feminine". Hence, the psychology of the white man found "an excuse" of going on with his oppression and exploitation. Up to this very day the West considers other peoples as weak. It has given rise to his "superiority complex". It consists of a pathological self-aggrandizement, since it is based on denial and suppression of his weak parts (feminine, "anima"). The more he suppresses himself, the more he will suppress others. In history the pattern remains the same, only its manifestation differs. "We are the greatest", the myth of being the "chosen ones" and "American lives", which apparently are of much more value than the lives of people of "other races" all speak volumes. Racism, which first was a domestic feature has now been exported to other peoples and countries. The ruthlessness with which weaker people are shamelessly crushed - without any remorse, even with pride - unimaginable to any civilized person, only contributes to the above mentioned "superiority complex". Its instruments are science, technology, capitalism, the media and the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately almost all women in the West have identified themselves with the patriarchal system. Especially those successful in science, politics and business are among its most devout supporters*.

* It is a.o. the reason for the almost total "communication gap" between feminists from the "Third World" ("matriarchal") and the West ("patriarchal").         

Our survival depends on whether we will be willing to become
part of Heaven, earth and the community again

Follow-up

5. What we Westerners know about Russia? What do we know about Africa or the Third World in general? And if we know something, what are the implications of this knowledge? As I said above, the controversy between "the countryside" and "the city" isn't a thing of the past*. On the contrary it has extended itself to a worldwide scale. Patriarchy is exploiting the maternal substance of the earth - from the community to the forests, from women to local economies, from natural resources to the family, from our youth to genetic manipulation of crops - in particular in the Third World. It is parasitical, like a never satisfied coockoo bird, reflected by the astronomical debts of both individuals and government of the greatest power on earth, a clear prove of wealth being stolen from others. The overcrowded mega-cities and the exploitation of the countryside are just two sides of the same coin. Western greed - the unlimited lust for more - is responsible. Hence, an increasing global crisis with disintegration of entire eco-systems, societies and cultures, turning everything into wasteland. The earth and its most close inhabitants are being destroyed at an alarming scale. The old classification still holds e.g. histoy is repeating itself: patriarchal power centers controlling and exploiting maternal subsistence. The "Third World" is very much aware of this. Our last chance is saving this very substance of the Third World, showing our solidarity with its resistance toward patriarchal exploitation. The notion of the Third World as being "feminine" may give people new inspiration, courage and self-sacrifice. That is why movements around the globe - from Mexico to India and from Western Africa or the Islamic countries to Brazil are showing an increasing participation of women. Many of them are women or "women-oriented men" led. They are typically holistic movements, connecting "separate" issues, like the environment, health, the community, agriculture, spirituality, regional production and trade, children's education, women rights and a self-representative political system, to each other. In our view these movements - see the promising World Social Forum - are the forerunners of a new "world order" - based on a holistic, feminine world view - an integrated world in which everything is interconnected, as the only one who has the answers to the self-destructive masculine oriented system of today. The patroness of this new world order could be the Great Mother.

* To explore the role of the Great Mother in African society, the latter's hidden matriarchy and the struggle of women to construct an alternative self-representative society, read I.Amadiume "Reinventing Africa", 1997 Zed Books. 

PS. See also: Toynbee.

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  2003 Copyright Han Marie Stiekema
Last revising: 12/13/04