Meaning: Ma, Ma, Divine Mother, Goddess of the Universe, Nourisher of all creatures. You are the Primal Supreme Power of creation. – Translation: Austin Sanderson
Some of the earliest spiritual traditions in human history are cults of wild animal worship and the worship of the female form and the womb, or cults of fertility.
To our primitive ancestors, wild animals were magical beings that possessed supernatural power. Wild animals were strong and fast, and could outmaneuver humans. Wild animals could fly and swim effortlessly. Humans could not get off the ground and were fearful of water until they learned to swim. Wild animals were in sync with the rhythms of nature and its changing seasonal conditions while humans were always one step behind in planning for nature’s changes, collecting nuts and berries for the winter months.
It is not surprising then that women were thought to be more connected to natural cycles than their male companions, because of their menstrual cycle. This monthly cycle that came and went like the waxing and waning of the moon seemed to possess magical qualities to sync with the rhythms of nature. Prehistoric males did not feel they had this mystical connection with nature. Childbirth, both in animals and humans, was another magical supernatural event that our primitive ancestors could not easily explain. From these two early unfathomable observations came the first two prehistoric spiritual mystery cults of early humans, the cult of animals and the cult of the womb.
The animal was worshiped in many forms: large cats, cave bears, and goats become objects of divine inspiration and strength. The female womb, life giving, became the Divine Mother, the Womb of Creation, the Earth Mother – but this female divinity was more than just the cliché we think of today. In the groundbreaking 1976 book, When God Was a Woman, historian Merlin Stone traces ancient worship of the Goddess back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages. She writes that in the Near and Middle East we can find evidence that the “development of the religion of the female deity in this area was intertwined with the earliest beginnings of religion so far discovered anywhere on earth.” This female deity was the supreme deity, a “creator and law-maker of the universe, prophetess, provider of human destinies, inventor, healer, hunter and valiant leader in battle” – a warrior.
During the Paleolithic period, Goddess worship was at its zenith. This is also the age of advancements in organized agriculture and crop growing, around 12,000 BCE. By the middle of the Neolithic age, we see a rise of male deities – but why? History has taught us that when women rise to prominence, misogyny often ensues, but that seems too easy to explain such a dramatic shift in spiritual focus from god in female form to god in male form. The emergence of farming continued to develop during the Neolithic transition, including the domestication of herding livestock, or animal enslavement. The goat (Capra hircus) was one of the first animals domesticated. Archaeological evidence traces goat domestication as far back as ca. 10,500 BCE in the high Euphrates valleys in the Middle East. This period is called the “Neolithic revolution,” but this was not a revolution of liberation.
Author Riane Eisler suggests that there have only been two types of societies in history, “partnerships” or “dominators.” In “partnership societies” men and women are essentially equal, and Eisler explores the idea that 12,000 years ago this was the case. As herd culture emerged, “dominator societies” arose. Men and male gods were seen as superior in the dominator world. Dominator cultures herded animals and emphasized a diet of eating meat and drinking milk to gain strength, so that a man could engage in violent competitions of war for the glory of their male gods who lived on mountain tops; those gods demanded meat sacrifices and were as violent as the humans they created. The male deity created man by himself from mud or clay, not from the magical womb of the Divine Mother.
By 1500 BCE, Goddess-worshipping in the Near and Middle East civilizations had mostly fallen from grace. With animal agriculture and animal husbandry (breeding of livestock) came the effect of demystifying both animal and woman. The oppression of women, children, land, and other humans was now in full swing. Male shepherds controlled when and which goats were bred: the shepherd tried to control nature, not allowing the natural cycle to occur on its own. It is no small coincidence that male gods were imagined as herders of sheep and cows (both Jesus and Krishna, just to name two).
With just a few facts, we can point to the fact that herding, meat-eating culture destroyed humanity’s relationship not only with the Divine Feminine but with women themselves. “The history of our species is, by and large, a history of male domination. The subordination of women, and their reduction to their reproductive function, has been such a constant that it can appear somehow normal and right, while the upending of old roles seems to cause a disorienting chaos”, writes Michelle Goldberg in her book The Means of Reproduction. If a man can control a goat’s body and reproduction, why should he not control his wives’ and daughters’? Our ancient male ancestors drove us further and further away from our connection to nature and its cycles.
Changing our personal spiritual belief system from male deity identification to female deity identification may have little effect over the past 3500 years of misogyny, animal husbandry, enslavement, and ecological damage done to the earth, but changing our diet from a meat and dairy base to a vegan-based diet most certainly can. Veganism is the revolution of our time. Systemic violence, sexism, racism, class strife, and destruction of the environment are not essential elements of human nature, but are relatively recent products of conditioning, attached to the need to dominate and conquer others that are found in herding cultures; once we begin to see that, we will see that the key to changing this behavior is a vegan diet.
As Will Tuttle writes in his book The World Peace Diet, “The contemporary vegan movement is founded on loving-kindness and mindfulness of our effects on others. It is revolutionary because it transcends the violent core of herding culture in which we live. It is founded on living the truth of interconnectedness and thereby consciously minimizing the suffering we impose on animals, humans, and biosystems; it frees us all from the slavery of becoming mere commodities. It signifies the birth of a new consciousness, and the resurrection of intelligence and compassion, and the rejection of cruelty and domination.”
Meat-eating culture is a cult based on violence and the death, blood, and flesh that come from its violence. Plant-eating cultures are based on life-giving, earth-connected harvest cycles that are renewable and sustainable. Intelligence, compassion, mindfulness, love, kindness, and life itself are all characteristics found in the Divine Feminine.