(Essay 2) Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection of the Control of Women, Private Property, and War, Part 2 by Carol P. Christ

Carol ChristPatriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.*

In last week’s blog, I explained patriarchy as a system in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality with the intent of passing property to male heirs. How did a system that identifies a man’s essence with his property and the ability to pass it on to sons come about? I suggest that the answer to this question is war and the confiscation of “property” by warriors in war. Patriarchy is rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.

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(Essay 1) Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection of the the Control of Women, Private Property, and War, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ

Carol ChristPatriarchy is often defined as a system of male dominance. This definition does not illuminate, but rather obscures, the complex set of factors that function together in the patriarchal system.  We need more complex definition if we are to understand and challenge the patriarchal system in all of its aspects.

Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.*

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(Poem) Earth Day by Donna Snyder

If I were the earth,

I would lose myself

to intermittent plagues of despair.

How could I not?

I travel among my People,

in the lands of canyons, mesas, buttes.

Here I weep and rage (have you heard?)

to see the ravages of wars of attrition

waged in the name of energy and its profitability.

I travel among my People

in the lands of this once grand river valley,

my fragile desert, and dying mountains.

Here I weep and rage (have you not seen?)

for toxins replace nutrients necessary to harbor life.

I am exhausted by the ravages of wars,

waged in the name of progress.

Poisonous disregard and knowing acts

foul the flow of my big river.

Babies are born without brains

because mamas drank brave waters,

corrupted by evil both seen and unseen-

pesticides, radioactive isotopes, carcinogens

Babies born with kidneys outside the body

rather than their natural place.

Perhaps I could become inured

to tragedy and comedy, and

oblivious to horror and terror.

If I were the earth,

I would sometimes succumb

to violent rages against perverse perpetrators,

their flippant disregard for these senseless horrors.

But then I might regret

that greater harm befalls me

than befalls the villain of this story.

But as long as I can be

cataclysmically annoyed, maybe

I can regain my strength.

If I were the earth,

I would long for sleep–

the kind of sleep where breezes

caress me with clean air

and all my dreams show me

how I am blessed. Perhaps I can persist,

continue to have random flashes

of lucid dreams and surreal clarity,

fortuitous gushes of brine,

and floods of clear water.

If I were the earth,

I would fling off gravity’s leash,

careen wildly through the universe

until I found a safe place

where I could sing and play,

rain sweet water

into my own waiting body,

dance again

among my sister stars.

Rebirth of Gaea by Jesse Newman

First written for Earth Day 1996.

(Poem) Eternal for Mago Circle by Anne Wilkerson Allen

Here on these pages

a fire began

with a spark of recognition.

Haven’t I tasted your words

at some communal table

set to honor the goddess?

The strings of the lyre

ripple through your voice

and resonate my core with birdsong.

Even the laughter that permeates the air

has the familiar, beloved scent

of petals and moist earth.

Your hands encircle my waist –

swirling, you lift me higher;

far beyond the promise of a rainbow.

Does my joy in seeing you

reflect a mirrored past –

a circle dance of confluence?

Navigating these rivers with you

surely must have begun on a primordial raft

with our essence intermingled….

Salvador Dali

(Poem) Birth of Aphrodite # 3 by Donna Snyder

I. a golden frame empty upon an aqua wall

an empty gold frame on an aqua wall
embellished with a subtle vignette the same color of gold

creamy rich mat frames nothing
just a piece of the delicate aqua enclosed with that golden line

the image supplied
as in all instances of beauty beheld
projected visions from the mind of the beholder

the empty wall the aquaeous amniote
Beauty perfect and entire unto itself since Time severed Heaven’s cock

the golden vignette on the golden frame
the froth of waves golden in the sunlight
the birth of Beauty
free of the ownership of Gods or Fathers

the sea’s amniote
the sun-gilded waves swelling and receding a promise of ceaseless pleasure

the psychopomp’s offer of exotica and adventure
to no avail as Beauty need travel no where
infinitely available and infinitely varied

not even the sturdy arms of the artisan husband
the husband’s creation of the artifacts of fat life
the rich treasure of his own opened veins
a volcano with expectations to hold–no

behind the golden frame the aqua wall
no one captured Beauty

neither ransomned nor bought
nor yet possessed
the aspect of the great divine trinity–Beauty, Passion and Pleasure

She there inside the empty golden frame
visible to any eye could look at a plane of aqua
and see her face

II. a plate of pits the morning after

the grape skin
peeled by teeth
suckled by tongue and lips
sweetness rolling down
throat and chin
the swallowed moment
the moment spent
the moment remembered

from Google Images

from Google Images

Obviously this is about the birth of Aphrodite from the foam that gathered about the severed genitals of Uranus thrown into the sea, making her not born of a father, limitless like the sea. As well, it is about the attempts of other gods to possess her, including her husband, the smithy of the gods.


(Go to Birth of Aphrodite #1 and #2 by Donna Synder)

(Poem) The Mother of Us All by Mary Saracino

 “God was female for at least the first 200,000 years of human life on earth.” ~Barbara Mor & Monica Sjoo, The Great Cosmic Mother

For 200,000 years we called you Mother

honored the blood-red kisses

you planted on our upturned brows.

How did we forget our original womb

from which we sprang, our hearts open

our mouths searching for the nipple?

Hungry now, we cry out

lost between liminal memory

and sacred thought, aching to return home.

You are the primal seed, the gestation that bears all hope

sustains us through drought and famine

disease and dire sorrow.

We spoke our first words to your wide eyes.

Abundantly you reflected our future

back into our open, expectant faces.

Your sturdy hands cradled our fragile bones

mended our tender muscles, ushered us into the bright

round world of sky and earth, water and wood.

In your breath, myth and memory merged

science was born, art echoed its wisdom

on the cool walls of dank caves

language danced on the tongue-tips of cooing babies.

You suckled our dreams as we tended community fires.

You fed us stories to satiate the bellies of our minds,

satisfy our growling need to fathom the unknowable.

Sky lords severed our jubilant tongues, uncoiled your spiral,

fabricated straight lines where once circles spun.

Subjugation overthrew cooperation.  Where once peace

rivered through our veins, blood froze

fearful of the silencing sword’s metallic, bitter edge.

The icy marrow of amnesia impeded our way,

although the moon and the stars, the sun and the winds

always whispered your name, coaxing us

to awaken from our long, fitful slumber.

Though our twenty-first century minds may fail us,

our cells remember: all life swells within the folds

of your milky skirt, spinning and leaping out of darkness

into light then back again into the primal, original sigh.

All death awaits your embrace, the final kiss of comfort

releasing us into the crook of your welcoming elbow

nestling us into the soft curve of  your breast — home once more

the terrible exile undone at long, long last.

Note: “The Mother of Us All” was originally published in OCHRE: Journal of Women’s Spirituality, Spring 2007

Mary Saracino is a novelist, poet, and memoir writer who lives in Denver, Colorado. She is the co-editor She Is Everywhere! Volume 3: an anthology of writings in womanist/feminist spirituality (iUniverse 2012). Her most recent novel, The Singing of Swans (Pearlsong Press, 2006) was a 2007 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist.  Her forthcoming novel, Heretics, will be published in 2014 by Pearlsong Press. For more information about Mary visit:






Artist Monica Sjöö

Artist Monica Sjöö

(Poem) Mother-Warrior by Glenys Livingstone

You are hera, heraic, warrior
You are brave, you are Brave
You have conquered
You have taken in hand those forces of disintegration that 
     threatened your existence
You hold them in your hands, your strong hands
They writhe but you hold them fast.
Your strength is a-mazing, your courage awesome.
Your wild hair flies in the wind.
Your wild eyes flame - your mouth too.
Your sun-kissed naked body stands firm on the high boulder
If it falls, it flies. If pierced through, it heals.
Oh Guerillere, Guerillere – female warrior
Your existence overpowers the death beat of the nation.
Your number is growing.
We will take them by storm, we will devour them
     transform them in our powerful bodies, excrete them.
With this compost we will cultivate
We will nurture new life.

We will do as we have always done.
For a long while now the dynamo has been kept in 
     a sound-proof room  under lock and key.
But the dynamo has been seized by those who own it.
Its sound can be heard now
- it is not the loud discordancy of the pnuematic drill.
It is the smooth whirring – of wings beating, of hearts humming.
Its power produces, regenerates.

As we have always done, we will do –
Mother-warriors that we are.

© Glenys Livingstone 7th September 1980, with additions 2006.
with acknowledgment for imagery to:
Monique Wittig, Les Guerilleres. NY: Avon Books, 1973.
Robin Morgan, “The Network of the Imaginary Mother”, Lady of 
the Beasts. NY: Random House, 1976.
Charlene Spretnak, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, 
NY:Doubleday,1982, p.87.

Published in MODERN WITCH Lughnasad 2008, p.8.
from ARAS Record 7Ao.054

from ARAS Record 7Ao.054


(Poem) Birth of Aphrodite #2 by Donna Snyder

Small breasts and fat rolls
Body of an immortal beauty
The goddess of love and righteous indignation

AphroditeShe rose fleshy and pristine from the foam of the infinite sea
Unlike her sister Athena
who sprang from the imperfect brow of the father god
Aphrodite is unmeasured and without flaw

Small breasts and fat rolls
The image transcends the span of centuries
I feel flesh beneath my fingers
Smell and taste the abundant flesh against my face

Small breasts and fat rolls
Blood and breath dance through my mortal body
I close my eyes and dream in mother of pearl

This poem was previously included in “I Am South,” my chapbook published in 2010 by VirgoGray Press.

(Go to Birth of Aphrodite #1 and #3.)

(Poem) Birth of Aphrodite #1 by Donna Snyder

she stands emptied her pallor bare to the world
speckled and blemished and seemingly open
the other half gone to the bottom of the sea
its energy subsumed within her opalescent belly

the soft flesh the muscular foot the valve opening only to close

the world has left its grime on her fleshiness
hematomas well up beneath her pellucid skin greens and blues and then magentas swell
all the colors of sea foam wreathe her breasts

somewhere long away from time’s wrath like Aphrodite absconded from the world she flees the bite of sun and harm of wind

she averts her gaze and leaves nothing behind
just a single shell to mark her own virgin birth
modest she looks quietly at what creation offers and arranges its abundant gifts about her beauty

soft flesh a muscular foot a valve opening only to close

Aphrodite, Sandro Boteccili

Aphrodite, Sandro Boteccili

(Go to Birth of Aphrodite #2 and #3)

(Poem) Precious Body Unknown by Glenys Livingstone

Precious Body

I gave you away

(we gave you away)

Cast you before swine.

Precious Pearl, the Self … Embodied

I delivered you to the pyre

(we were delivered, delivered ourselves)

I bound your feet

(we were bound, bound ourselves)

I mutilated your genitals … your my our sacred yoni

(we were mutilated, mutilated ourselves … why do whales beach themselves?)

rose swirlPrecious MindBody

I denied your knowledge

(we were denied, we denied … all of it)

Truly I played dumb, felt dumb

(we played dumb, felt dumb, were told we were dumb, were not addressed)

I did not speak to you, I did not hear you

(we did not speak to ourselves, were not spoken to, did not hear, were not heard)

I starved myself

(we starved ourselves, we were starved)

I pretended I was not there/here … would the world be better then?

(we pretended we were not there/here, we were just shells, vacuous, empty)

Where was Our Mother?

(where were we, what kind of monster was Our Father?)

Why did we not raise up ….. an army?

Why did we not say no?

(we did say no)

As our blood spilled out

our bodies/minds burned, corsetted, bound, probed

our spirits quelled

we hoped, as mothers do, that Marduk would mend his ways

that the Son of the Mother would remember Himself.

(Poem) The Truth of Vikings by Donna Snyder


The music in her head makes her scared
as if Vikings still brandished their blades
from the decks of ships fierce as dragons afloat in an ageless riverThe leaves are chill flames
Cold rains obscure the water’s source
Hiding it away like the secret of a woman’s aging bodyShe is apples and pears
She ripens in her own sweet skin
Only the moon can match the luster of her opalescent bellyHer mouth makes shadows
Her fingers are a doorway and her hair a burning bush
Iconic as a religious artifact still sticky and sweet insideShe is on route to the end of being on the back of a red swan
She is on the way to nothingness made tolerable
by ritual and fire and the howling of inconsolate womenThey no longer believe
that love will save them from sorrow
There is no home now they wail there is no safe placeDeath tastes like winter flowers
She knows this because
she knows things she is not supposed to knowShe stands so close
she can hear warriors telling each other secrets
The truth is that neither love nor death diminishes you

The way to truth is a life suffered
The way to truth is a drunken waltz
She stands so close her howl is lost in the roar of the music inside her head

She is wordless before the fact of Vikings
Rain and a woman’s sluggish heat

Truth is found in a harsh yellow light

This poem was published on The Montucky Review

(Poem) Transformation by Glenys Livingstone

Completely dismantled
            - all the stock taken out of the cupboards.
Strip them bare
            Pull apart my knowings
- rip them open, let the connections be severed.
Expose all the parts, every cell
            to the sunlight
                                    throw away
                                                move it all around
                        mix it, mix it
                                    skim the dross
With mortar and pestle pound Her
Is She mortified sufficiently yet?
Has She seen it all yet?
Pound Her more, take it from Her
Like panning for gold ......
            is there any?
What will be left?
The grit, the metal, the stones
            found at the bottom of the wash
This is the new composition.
Begin composing it now.
Write it, sing it, melt it back together,
            re-Form it, re-Cognize it,
            breath it, dance it.
Let it grow
Praise the Dark One who dismantled you dear
            who took off your robes
            exposed you
She took you apart
- because you lusted to know
Now She has filled your cells,
            your blue print
                        with new possibility
- bled the poison
            emptied the cup
                        that it may be filled.

Glenys Livingstone  December 1995 C.E.

Tomb Priestess

(Essay) Does Belief Matter? by Carol P. Christ

In recent days I have been pondering the fact that some people and some feminists seem to see the issues of religious faith and belonging to be rooted in birth, family, and community, while for others the question of belonging to a religious community hinges on belief and judgments about the power exerted by religious institutions.  What accounts for this difference in the way we view religious belonging?

Recently I watched The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholicsa film featuring Roman Catholic feminists and ethicists who dissent from the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s views on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality.  At the beginning of the film those interviewed state almost univocally that for them being Catholic stems from having been born Catholic. These Catholic dissidents continue as Catholics, even though they disagree with major portions of Roman Catholic teaching.  It may have been because they were not asked, but most of them did not name reasons of belief for remaining Catholic.

Thus the viewer did not learn the theological reasons these progressive Catholics stay in the church.  I wondered: Do they believe that salvation occurs only through Jesus as the Christ? Do they believe in original sin? How do they feel about the God of Exodus and the prophets who achieves his will through violence or the Christian doctrine of hell?  I also wanted to know how they justify being part of an institution that, as June Courage stated on these blog pages, is responsible for the deaths of women and children through its contraception and abortion policies just as surely as if it were bombing their homes in an unjust war.

I suspect that the answer these Roman Catholic theologians and ethicists would give begins something like this, “If we do not stay to challenge the church hierarchy, who would?”

I know that my answer to this question is: “I cannot.  I cannot ally myself with a church that is doing so much evil in the world, especially since I do not believe salvation comes through Christ, that the world is mired in original sin, or that the Bible sheds any particular light on the problems the world faces today.”

Of my four grandparents, two were Roman Catholic.  My recent genealogical research has revealed that three of my eight great-grandparents were Roman Catholic, while the other five were most likely descended from Huguenots.  Huguenots were French followers of Jean Calvin who were driven out of France in the late 1500s.  My presumed Huguenot relatives settled in Lorraine and Saarland in the Palatinate, in Belgium before moving on to Sweden, and in Mecklenberg, Germany, with another branch of them stopping briefly in Holland and England before moving to the British Colonies in America in the early 1600s.

Huguenot Calvinists believed in total depravity and divine predestination, doctrines I find repugnant.  But they also believed in a more direct relationship between God and the individual than their Catholic forebears.  They put their “belief” before birth, family, and community.  They were willing to distance themselves from family and even to uproot themselves from the places of their birth, because of their beliefs.*

In this I am their heir. I have followed my own inner light and in so doing have cut myself off from home, family, and community.  Belief and following my own inner authority are important to me.  I do not believe in original sin or salvation through Christ, and I find too much to disagree with in the Bible to ally myself with it.  My choices have sometimes felt lonely. But they are the only choices that I in conscience could make.

I wonder if there is a Huguenot temperament or a Huguenot gene** that I have inherited. If so, it is a gene or temperament that finds it difficult to compromise belief or to ally oneself with religious institutions with which one disagrees.

*Thanks to Cristina Nevans for a conversation that helped me to clarify which aspect of the Huguenot story I identify with.

**I do not mean there is a gene that creates Huguenots, but rather suggest that there may be enculturated or inherited tendencies to be uncompromising, to look for certain kinds of clarity, or to be unwilling to defer to authority.

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS.  Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.

This essay was originally published in Feminism and Religion