Women in Religion and the Birth of Patriarchy

In this note I want to compare the evolution of patriarchy in the abrahamic and brahmanical traditions and argue that religious assertions of male superiority were instrumental in creating the institution of property and constituted some of history’s earliest moments of primitive accumulation.
Further I will explain how the tantric tradition corrects certain critical flaws in the previous brahmanical tradition.
In a hunter gatherer culture there can be no property (or very little, limited to small movable objects). Whatever property exists is constantly undercut by the threat of violence. While it was possible for people to rob each other, accumulation of robbed property was difficult as these cultures survived by being light and mobile. Robbery developed from the same roots as hunting, both founded on the creation and use of weapons. As these robbers would get more successful they would eventually hit the pastoral stage when they began to rob and accumulate human and animal slaves. Once we make the move to the pastoral stage, there is a significant amount of property which needs to be controlled and herded. So then comes the question of who will inherit the herd ? Once settled agriculture begins the question of inheritance becomes one of critical importance.
The question of property is the question of primitive accumulation. Someone gets richer because someone gets dispossessed. Adam and Eve were living in the garden of Eden as one with the animals. no natural taboos are broken at this stage. It is a state of pure bliss. This is largely the proto-hunter gatherer stage. Then Eve is tempted by the serpent and eats the apple and offers it to Adam. Adam eats the apple and incurs the wrath of his father. Then both he and Eve are evicted from Eden.
So why is Eve stigmatized in the first story of the bible? The state of contentment in the garden is the animalistic stage, where consciousness is not fully aware of itself as a separate entity. Like babies, animals are separate entities and yet one with their nurturer, in case of the baby it is the mother and in case of the animal it is the environment and the food chain. What Eve offers Adam in form of the apple was gnostic knowledge. Self-awareness, not just the ability of an adult human to control and manipulate the external environment as per his will; but also the ability of a god to control or at least witness the operations of nature in one’s own body-mind. The experiential understanding of the body as a psychophysical complex designed to enable the interaction of matter and spirit.
Essentially what eve taught adam was how to physically manipulate subtle aspects of his body enabling him to willfully control his biological evolution and to use it to rewire his neurons in such a way that he moves from the consciousness of an animal to the cosmic consciousness of god. Once Adam comes back to his body with the knowledge of being god, he realized that all this while he had been an animal. He becomes self aware of both his status as god and as an animal. As both gods and animals, Adam and eve created something between the jungle and heavenly Eden, they created language and society and as they do it they get mired in sin. By which i mean that discriminative knowledges are made possible by cosmic consciousness, but the more elaborate one’s discriminative knowledges get the further one moves away from cosmic consciousness towards animalistic consciousness. So once in the realm of culture, outside of eden man is a social animal, and insists on being that instead of moving on to being a cosmic animal. As long as man insists on remaining a social animal he is in the realm of sin. The knowledge of the serpent which eve offers Adam is the kundalini energy which is an altered state of consciousness involving a fuller awareness and willful control of the sympathetic and para-sympathetic nervous systems and the energies that flow through them.
Then comes the story of Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel because he is jealous of his brother. Cain was elder and Abel was younger (if I remember correctly). One was a farmer and the other a shepherd. The heavenly father favored Abel as he was more deserving of his spiritual patrimony, enraged, Cain kills Abel. The agriculturist kills the pastoralist. The central question of this story is of inheriting the father’s wealth (though spiritual in this case) . Who is the deserving son? And centuries of war happened between the Abrahamic tribes over this question. The story also synchronizes patriarchy with war. Man murders his brother to deny him inheritance. In the Indian context this question is the center of the epic text Mahabharata.
Pastoralism creates property by controlling the feminine. Eve initiates Adam, which means in matters spiritual woman is superior to man. As the possessor of magic she is vilified as Lilith. It is precisely because she is strong that she is threatening to the man who realizes his spiritual infancy through her initiation. Man’s response to woman’s strength is to feel threatened and attempt to control her.
I spoke earlier of primitive accumulation, of someone getting richer and another getting poorer. In patriarchal pastoralism creation of property is based on dispossessing mothers of their children. First concerning the heard animal, the heard itself is created by kidnapping the calves, as long as the calves are under control the mothers will follow. They will even submit to being milked, tied up or even slaughtered. Similarly human mothers are dispossessed of their property by controlling their children. this is what institutions of marriage and inheritance did (particularly in the Indian context). The woman is the father’s property who he hands over to the husband. She can have children only with the husband and once born the children are the property of the husband too. Of these children the eldest male child would inherit the property and the rest would follow. The vedic pastoralists made bands of semi ascetic men who were not inheriting any property (second sons , third sons, bastards), these dispossessed men called Vratyas would be used as shock troops to raid and make war on other tribes. When a hunter gatherer society turns into a pastoralist society, there are two natural taboos that are broken. First is that the milk of another animal is being consumed and secondly adults are consuming milk. The Brahmins compensated for this by poetically elevating cow to the level of mother and legally dropping women to the level of a cow. They were both man’s property. So Eve turned Adam from an animal into a god and Adam in response turned a goddess into an animal.
The abrahamic religions have all had a difficult relationship with women. This is because in their mythology, rituals etc the female principle has been purposefully excluded. The truth of the matter only survived in secret cabals and riddles. Both the jewish kabbalah and the tantra see the human psyche as composed of male and female energies. But if the world is lived through the lens of the abrahamic tradition then the nurturing feminine archetypes remain unexpressed and unexplored whereas the protective masculine becomes overpowering and overwhelming. The psychic energies would remain unbalanced and the personality would tend towards the demonic ideas such as authoritarianism(In a nutshell this is the position also taken up by Carl Jung and Wilhelm Reich). However the catholic church was extremely efficient in wiping out all traces of druidry, paganism, witch craft or anything remotely resembling feminine magic from Europe.
In India the vedic Aryans created not just slavery for women and animals but through the caste system, a graded slavery for men. However they were cut short in their march once the Saraswati river dried up and cut off their access to magical ecstasy. The indigenous tribes particularly of eastern India were very deeply steeped in goddess magic and over centuries Brahmins managed to steal some of their magic and also through cunning politics bring them within the ambit of the caste world order. However despite being politically and socially very strong the Brahmins were spiritually very weak which is why there have been several spiritual revolts in the religious history of india. Traditionally the ascetics were more spiritually powerful than the Brahmins, later tantrism combined the asceticism with householder existence. This allowed for low caste householders to possibly become more spiritually powerful than the Brahmin or the ascetic. Unlike Europe where the goddess cult was wiped out feminine religion in India has constantly challenged and struggled with brahmanical patriarchy.
What is common to both the abrahamic and brahmanical formulations was an inability to deal simultaneously with two competing facets of reality, the reality of matter and the reality of spirit. In both cases a masculine orthodoxy responds by identifying matter with the feminine and spirit with the masculine. Once they were conceptually separated one could then reject the material in favor of the spiritual. By implication this meant that socially women were subjugated to men.
This position became absolute in Europe because the central authority of the church pogromatically killed off all competing versions not just of other religions but also competing versions of Christianity. In India the situation developed differently, the other competing visions were able to organize and develop the technology of tantra. Tantra developed a strong rational critique not just of brahmanical social law but also of the brahmanical vision of absolute spiritual truth, Brahman.
Brahmanical society was divided into the realm of the caste householders and that of the casteless, clanless ascetics. This idea was a working out of the notion that there was a realm of masculine-spiritual truth that of brahman and a realm of feminine-material illusion that of maya. In the abrhamanic formulation this was the duality of good and evil, of god and the devil, of the body and spirit.
Tantra comes and says if the Brahman was absolute then it could not admit of another principle, maya that would be able to obstruct it. So what good is an absolute truth, if one’s awareness of Brahman is broken once one gets out of meditation and starts moving about. A communion with god that ends as soon as you stop praying, cannot be something absolute since it is contingent on something else to manifest it. The absolute has to be self manifesting as well as self obscuring. There is no illusion, merely an inability to comprehend the creative energies of the absolute in action for what the actually are. The duality inherent in these systems is cancelled out by a Trinitarian non dual system. Matter, thought and consciousness are understood and realized as three phases of the same absolute. Thought mediates between the two polar states of matter and pure consciousness. And pure consciousness constantly descends into matter through thought. Instead of being rejected the feminine is recognized as the creative aspect of the absolute, one that creates by contracting its omnipresence in parts. So while on one hand spirit and matter are resolved, and experienced as one and the same through tantric meditative technologies, by implication its social vision follows liberal egalitarianism towards all genders, races and castes. As such tantra does not give us a moral codex, rather what it does is remove those limitations of the mind which insist on seeing limited particular things as either good or bad, desirable or undesirable in themselves.


5 thoughts on “Women in Religion and the Birth of Patriarchy

  1. This was fascinating, thank you for sharing!

    I’m not as familiar with the Indian religions, but I’ve heard similar ideas and theories posited about the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Able. A friend of mine who’s an anthropologist and an old professor of mine both take a similar but not identical stance on those Genesis stories as you do, though they focus primarily on the movement from hunter-gather to agriculture and these stories essentially being metaphorical for that process. I like how you weave in the spiritual with it as well, to cast this light on the development of a patriarchal order in that area.

    Liked by 1 person

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