We seem to have viewed Earth as Feminine - it makes sense, women are the one's who give birth...life clearly comes through the female. We scratched our gratitude as magical fertility symbols into the soft clay of pots, carved the curve of round bellied women in clay, wood, stone, antler and bone and wove it into the very fabric of life. Our gratitude, our reverence, and our constant hope that She would continue to provide. We were in relationship with the Sacred Feminine.
When farming came along - if you have ever actually tried existing as a hunter-gatherer you will understand with piercing, tummy-aching clarity what the advantages of farming are - these freely given gifts slowly embarked on a journey that ended when they became 'produce'. As someone who partly grew up on a farm I don't see that farming and respect and gratitude for Life are incompatible, but somehow it has mostly worked out that way. Farming became agribusiness.
Clever little beans that we are, as our population increased and we strayed into territories that were not necessarily as fertile as the one's we had left, we found a way to increase the odds of there being any given foodstuff where we wanted it when we wanted it.
Sadly, over time, we have become so disconnected from the original 'source of all' that we fondly imagine we are completely in control of the process. We feel that as we buy and sell and hoard our 'goods' we are making the world a better place, few of us noticing that it is to the advantage of the few not the many that these things are organised. We have fallen out of relationship with The Mother of All Things.
Farming originated in Sumer around 4,000 years ago, and it seems from the records that as soon as we started to farm we changed from a society with equal rights for everyone to one that started to dis-empower and denigrate the feminine. Agricultural surplus meant that particular landscapes became worth invading and fighting over. War was what made men great, and military leaders became more important than the goddesses of the land.
There is an often relayed myth that says in early Celtic society land had always been owned by women and passed down through maternal blood lines. There is apparently no written evidence for this assertion, but scholars suggest that there may be considerable truth in the 'myth' simply because it has been related as fact so frequently in what was written down. Either way, times clearly changed, and even among the Celts the rights of women were eroded. Goddesses were conquered by Gods, women became chattels.
Time passed in an increasingly masculine world until according to a book written in 1777 (by that prolific author 'anon') "in Saxon times, the rank and consequence of women appear to have been considerable..... the Norman invasion was fatal to the rights of women." With the Normans came a lineage of brutal Christian kings and the 'Doomsday Book' - a giant list of all the things that these kings had dominion over. It is interesting to note that it was the Church that owned one quarter of all the land in England.
As women's power was taken away from her so was the land taken away from the people - and vice versa. The first enclosures of common land that we know of here in Britain happened in the 12th Century. Enclosure meant farming that was undertaken by the many became to the advantage of the few. Vast swathes of common land and 'open fields' were enclosed and access to common land severely restricted. Access therefore to free food and medicine and engagement with the land as Sacred Ground became made smaller and smaller as the rights of 'owners' became more and more violently enforced.
Rebellion was frequently followed by charges of witchcraft and hundreds of women were killed and many thousands more silenced by violence. The global figure for women executed for witchcraft is thought to be something like 9 million. We actually got off very lightly here (if hundreds of women dead rather than millions can be called such a thing). Torture was not a legal way to extort confession and being tried as a witch in The British Isles was not necessarily a death sentence - only about 25% of those tried were actually killed. The story is not the same elsewhere in Europe and America where horrific tortures were endured and death was the almost certain outcome of an accusation of witchcraft. We get the expression 'the third degree' from these times - people, mostly women, were tortured in ways that every part of me cringes away from, I cannot even write about it. Many confessed having been tortured once, most confessed having been tortured twice, everyone either confessed or died having been tortured three times.
It is no co-incidence that one of the most powerful symbols of 'witchcraft' is the cauldron. What is a cauldron if not a creative container - a wombic space? It is the creative nature of Woman and her connection to the Earth and the Cosmic Womb that the dominant paradigm has sought to limit. We have been persecuted for our authentic power; for living our creativity, our sensuality, our intuition and our wildness. For far too long now it seems that the toxic male has sought to dis-empower the female and attain 'power over' - because he does not have 'power of'. Our history has been moulded by misogynists and as it is always written by the winners we have suffered grievously at it's hands. The Malleus Maleficarum (a handbook for witch-hunting and identification) was written in 1486 by two monks at the instigation of Pope Innocent the 8th and it singled out women as the primary practitioners of witchcraft. This one book was responsible for generations of children watching as their mothers, sisters and aunts burned at the stake throughout Europe and the New World. Between 1486 when it was written and 1735 when the Witchcraft Act was repealed paganism became devil worship and what little remained of our 'folk' customs, and our living relationship with the Spirits of the land, became heresy.
By 'we' I do not exclusively mean women, I mean the feminine in all of us. This may well sound like a polemic against men but I assure you it is not. It is not even a polemic against the masculine or indeed one against Christianity. We are all of us a balance (or an imbalance) between masculine and feminine energies. Typically but not exclusively the feminine will be most powerfully expressed by a female body. But the land belongs to all of us, she has given birth to all of us, she is our most ancient ancestor. The de-humanisation and subjugation of half of the population is the de-humanisation and subjugation of half of all of us. The feminine has been dis-empowered, or at least our connection to her deep authentic wildness has. The common ground of our humanity has been fenced. We and our land to which we belong are being abused; we know this in our bones, in the very beating of our hearts. Bones and a heart that are made out of the same stuff exactly as all the rest of creation.
HOWEVER - In actual fact, women in the west have more rights at this moment in history than at any time in the last 4,000ish years. There are women in positions of power from Germany's chancellor to Canada's 50% female government. I believe that this is 100% connected to the land. When survival was an issue the feminine was honoured - when we invented farming survival was not an issue in the same way, it didn't feel necessary to acknowledge the power of the land, of Earth, of the feminine, so we stopped. We forgot our lives depended on Her. Now, our survival is once again in question. Humanity has brought Earth to the brink of collapse. Species are being wiped out at a rate of dozens every day as a result of our treatment of our home, the biosphere is clearly unstable, global warming is quite possibly out of control and it might be too late. Self interest is reviving our connection to the Divine Feminine. We've remembered we need her.
What's needed now is for us to move beyond patriarchy and beyond feminism to the place where the feminine and the masculine are honoured in all of us, and exist not in warring polarity but in balance. Only then will we start to be able to create a world where respect and tolerance are the norms, and where 'all that is' can exist peacefully. Everything is made up of the same stuff, everything has spirit, everything IS an emanation of The Divine. Perhaps if we can bring ourselves back into balance then we can bring our world back into balance. If we can re-empower the feminine, love and honour Mother Earth and remember that we are, all of us, responsible for patriarchy - then we can change the outcome. Or, even if it is the End of Days, let those days at least be days of beauty and of peace between us and each other and our Earth.
Here, I've picked you an apple.
Shall we love each other as though this were true? Shall we treat each other as though we all belonged here, to the Earth?
My deepest longing is that it may be so.
What is yours?