In The Beginning
In the Beginning was the Mother, Mistress of Infinity
The Great Cosmic Womb from which all came to be
And the Sun and the Moon and Stars She bore and the Earth in her Beauty, and
She in turn gave birth to us from Her own Womb, the Sea.
And Her Daughters gave birth in likeness to that Universal Queen and Peace
and Sweet Contentment
At the Mother's breast were seen
Why did so many sons turn from the one who makes them whole
How angry for Her betrayal with all the power in my soul.
By: Lady Isadora
Too many theories of how Witchcraft first started seem to be when there was a Goddess and her Consort. It is unfortunate that most do not realize that the true, oldest religion was when there was just the Goddess. They do not trace it back further where it all started, and then go on to say with the rise of man realizing his part in the reproduction process, through war and conquest, ended up playing a part in the Goddess's life.( I say a part because reproduction is only a part of the Goddess. She is everything and in everything).
Some very convincing modern studies seem to indicate that it was the woman who first established the taboo system. In some respect, this was simply to escape sexual attention from the males, but it was also in order for women to be present with one another during times of menstruation and child birth. Women passed on the knowledge of herbs to soothe pain and reduce bleeding along with other "secrets" to which the men were not privileged. Under patriarchal rule, the taboos remained in place, but took on different associations than were originally intended.
Men naturally feared what they could not understand, and perceived the taboo system not as a time for women to be alone together, but as a situation that men had to avoid. Thus for men the process of menstruation and childbirth became confused with fear and dread. All they knew was that these times excluded the pleasures of sexual intercourse and caused physical pain for the women. Out of the imaginings common to human nature when forced segregation take place, negative images began to develop. These negative images involved over the centuries into a mentality that erroneously viewed menstruating women as unclean and contaminating.
It was due on part to this mentality, that men moved away from the spirituality of the Goddess Cult into that of the warrior/hunter cult. Because they could not breast-feed, menstruate, or give birth (and their role in impregnation was as yet not fully realized), men sought an understanding of their own relevance. This was, however, a slow process and many men remained within the matrifocal religion serving as priests. The majority of these men were elders and lamed hunters who, left behind during the hunting and fighting, were taught by the female shamans. Out of this body of men, arose what became the priesthood of Wicca. In time, there occurred a rift among the male societies, and they eventually separated into solar and lunar-oriented cults. As men rose to power, they challenged the structure of matrilineal descent and the supremacy of matrifocal religious concepts. In Greece, the Titan Goddesses were married off to war/hunting Gods.
The Great Mother image remained a powerful force even after the shift from matrifocal religion to patriarchal religion. The mother figure is the strongest and most lasting image within the human experience.
It was women who established human culture and brought humankind out of the hunter-gather era and into that of an agricultural society. The image of the Great Mother Goddess was the outward symbol of the concerns and needs of the human community. But she also embodied the fears of early people and thus she was also known as the "Mother Terrible," the destroyer of life, wherein She represented death. Like her symbol of the moon, the goddess transformed herself into different guises and different reflections of light and dark.
Prior to the advent of agriculture, humans depended upon animal life and, therefore, on the tribal bunters. However, eventually the horned heroes (usually through injury) no longer went on the hunts and due to their special status within the clan, were given magickal and religious training by the female shamans. Out of this arose the role of the Priestess and her Priest. Originally, the women directed the religious/spiritual ways of the tribe and men were excluded from any major roles. Women appeared magickal to men because of their ability to produce offspring, and therefore men easily accepted female domination. It wasn't until men realized their role in procreation that they pushed for a greater role in religious matters. This resulted in a partnership relationship between the genders of the Goddess and her Consort. Later, as men became warriors as well as hunters, they thought they grew in importance and gained more control over all tribal concerns. The irony of this is as the men gained more control, (the Great Goddess cult) the Old Religion was brought to a gradual decline. However in southern and western Europe, resistance held out much longer. The Aegean and Mediterranean regions and western Europe escaped the process the longest, especially in the islands of Thera, Crete, Malta and Sardinia, Old European culture flourished in a enviable, peaceful and creative civilization until 1500bc., a thousand to 1500 years after central Europe had been thoroughly transformed. Nevertheless, the Goddess religion and its symbols survived as an undercurrent in many areas.
As humans began to construct cities and empires, the religious views of the Solar and Lunar philosophies began to grow apart. The controlling, rule-making dominating aspects of the Solar philosophies appeared better able to quickly conquer and subdue enemies than could the influencing intuitive, and cooperative aspects of the Lunar. This, in time, led to the forming of two separate Pagan religions. However, since it was the men who held political and military power, and the men who presided over Solar Rites, the Lunar Cults were eventually outlawed for fear of undermining of the strength of the Solar Cult.
The Lunar Cults began to practice their rites in secret, away from the cities. Forests and mountains became the temples of Lunar cultist. Despite the dominance of the Solar-oriented men in power, the hearts of the people were with the Lunar Way (with the Goddess). Secret cults sprang up such as the Italian Benandanti who fought against evil spirits, carrying staffs or fennel stalks into the fray as they defended the crops of the harvest. Other societies came forward to protect and preserve the Old Ways as well (such as the Society of Diana).
The Witch Cult and other Mystery Traditions flourished up until the fourth century A.D. when early Christians looted and destroyed Pagan temples and prevented the rites from being performed. And, then we all know the rest.
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