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BOOK TITLE: DANCE OF THE DEITIES: Searching for Our Once and
Future Egalitarian Society
available on Amazon — paperback: $14; Kindle: $8.49
Dance of the Deities is the only book to combine memoir and research on gender equality in human culture. It explores the causes of male dominance and teaches us how to learn from the deep past to create a thriving egalitarian future.
Written by anthropologist and journalist, Patricia McBroom, the book takes
readers back to 10,000 BCE in a lively story of the author’s 50-year search for female authority.
“The book nearly exploded in my hands,” says acclaimed religious historian, Anne Barstow. “Incredibly rich, suggestive and courageous, it is loaded with so much — the author’s own journey and the war going on among archaeologists over the goddess.”
This media kit contains sample interviews and video clips from an October book launch on YouTube . Here, the reader can jump on a time machine and travel back to the very beginning of the Agricultural Revolution while witnessing egalitarian cultures and a female deity. The memoir earned a starred review from Booklife:
“(The author’s) approach is compassionate, not militant; while grieving the effects of patriarchy in her own life, she asserts that women don’t want to rule over men, only to share their power….This mix of memoir, theory, and research will interest any reader who’s passionate about building a more egalitarian world.”
Copies are available on Amazon.
Patricia McBroom is an anthropologist, journalist and professor of women’s studies. A former science writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer, her ground-breaking 1985 book, The Third Sex, was described in a New York Times review as “a brave and stunningly intuitive journey.”
Do you think that having more women in politics and other professions makes a safer world?
Yes, I do. According to our knowledge of indigenous cultures, women need to own critical resources, such as land, to be empowered. Then they are equal to men. These worlds have been safer than what we have now. Without an economic base, women become second class, subordinate to husbands and fathers, and the culture turns aggressive. But economic power is not yet enough.
The secret is that men have to change too, because I’m talking about equality, not female dominance, nothing like the patriarchy created by men. Equality is a different system: men have to be free from training as warriors in order to participate. A lot depends on how men change in the next generation.
What does that mean? Change to what?
Men need to give up the idea that masculinity is only one type — strong, confident, taking care of everything, controlling, and paying the psychological price by not becoming emotional except for anger. Being trained as boys not to cry, etc.
That one type has ruled the way we train boys and it’s not a good one. We have to allow boys to develop as themselves, without the threat of having to lose their lives as warriors. It’s important to turn boys into men, not warriors.
You can see in my book the process young men have to go through in male-dominant cultures to become prepared to lose their lives. It’s a known pattern in ethnography and it has dominated in many places since 5,000 years ago. It is a virulent, invasive force, an imperialist force. So we need to move out of that era and the way we can move out of it is by reaching equality so that women have equal say in the ownership and governance of our countries.
How does the empowerment of women involve a goddess?
It’s been true in many, if not all, cultures that when equality exists, there are two deities, and one is feminine. If one god, she is female. So, egalitarian cultures do have goddesses and it’s important for women to feel that deity inside. It’s a strength, not weird, just a sense of empowerment. You can achieve this experience through psychedelic chemicals or other means such as meditation or mysticism.
What caused you to write this material in a memoir?
It was instinctual. I needed to work this material through the threads of my life. But more importantly, I wanted to demonstrate that all our knowledge in this field is seen through the lens of gender and class. Our stories are written from our personal value systems and traits. Rarely is it understood that most of our narratives of human development are written from a male-biased perspective; female narratives are lost or written out of history over and again, creating a distorted and overly-aggressive view of human nature.
Hope for the Future
MEETING THE EARTH SPIRIT
From a cramped, anxious curl, I turned over and opened up into a spread-eagled position on the mattress, with my arms flung wide on either side, letting the spirits of the plant medicine take over. It felt so good to relax into the floor, accepting and embracing the world.
This was no ordinary night. Two days earlier I had seen Donald Trump elected President of the United States and I was still in a state of shock. Fortunately I had already scheduled a medicine journey with psychedelic mushrooms and I was eager, though nervous, to find out what my brain would create under such conditions.
I’d been experimenting with psychedelics for about three years at the time, picking up an intention delayed for half a century. As a science writer in Washington D.C. in the late 1960s, I wrote about the transformative, spiritual experiments going on at Harvard University with LSD and psilocybin. I wanted to try psychedelics at the time, but lacked the support or access to take such a risk. So I waited. With the recent resurrection of circles using such medicines in Northern California where I now live, I had the chance to attain the old ambition. In the intervening years I had explored the physical world; now, after 80 years on earth, it felt right to take an equally adventurous journey through my psyche.
My mind began to soar. The vaulted wooden ceiling above me darkened as night arrived —the only light coming from a circle of candles, the sacred circle where we had stated our intentions and ate the small, dry mushrooms. There were five of us, lying prone on the floor with masks over our eyes, the better to experience internal space.
I took the mask off. I wanted to see the ceiling where a small, painted angel dangled from the rafters. I felt exhilarated, powerful, indefatigable. The fingers of my open palms seemed to gain enormous sensitivity, as if they could receive – and touch – everything. My arms embraced all children. I had become some sort of earth spirit, a female spirit, the Great Goddess of antiquity —Gaia.
Now the energy was pouring through my body and mind and into the room. I thought of the recent election, in which Hillary lost the presidency, and I felt power as I had never felt it before. We did not lose. I knew that. We will never lose. I knew that too. Our spirit is triumphant. It can never be defeated. And by “we” I meant the earth divinity as symbolized by the female. Ancient peoples worshipped such a divinity for 25,000 years before it was forcibly suppressed by the male-centered Abrahamic religions 3,500 years ago.
My left arm rose from the bed and bent across my body as though I were holding a shield. It was a warning, a strike, to those who would violate me. My right arm remained outstretched, its palm open, offering love and support. Both worked together: protection and receptivity.
Meanwhile, another part of my mind questioned my actions, as though I were performing a role. I grasped the ceremonial stick I had decorated earlier in the day to my chest to ground myself. Fortunately, I was too carried away to be stopped by mere self-consciousness. Do and be what you are, I thought. Do not censure. Let it be. It feels so good.
My left arm fell back on the mat and for a moment, I became another creature – a spider or a bug. It didn't matter what or who. Everything was of the earth.
At this point, my guide came over to kneel beside me and ask how I was doing. He knew how much I had grieved in earlier trips with the earth medicine and he wanted to be sure I was OK. I rolled over.
“I am wonderful,” I said.
“Good, I thought so,” he replied, and went away again.
I didn't need any help of any sort. I was complete. Never had I been so free of neediness, except in the arms of a lover. But even there, another person had been necessary.
It seemed as if no time passed while I lay in this state of consciousness. Yet it had only been three hours since our ceremony. Our guides were waking us up. I did not want to come back, was not ready to engage with language. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about this trip, though I had already begun to re-inhabit my body.
It was a strange feeling, to inhabit my body again. I could feel my arms and shoulders, chest and hips twitch as my normal human self came home. This self felt smaller, more earthbound, more ordinary.
But who had I been? What was this huge ego that had taken over? Did I really step into a divine spirit or was I experiencing some immature version of self that had never grown up?
My trip occurred at the same time that millions of women and men organized in the streets around the world to protest the Trump election and I do believe I was sharing some sort of global consciousness. Nevertheless, I was stunned by the archetype that arose. Never had I experienced such a personal taste of Goddess power. The closest I had come was the sense of divine presence under a full moon thirty years earlier and that was without any chemical. It was also a solitary experience.
This time I joined millions rising in protest against this parody of a patriarchy that had overtaken our country. Perhaps the only difference between us was that I had taken a plant of the earth that split my mind open to sacred experience, an experience that said NO, THIS MUST NOT STAND! and YES, I AM EARTH; I WILL CARE FOR YOU.
From that time forward, I decided to write a memoir of my search for equality and the sacred female, a search that has lasted off and on for fifty years, through my career as a science journalist and anthropologist.
There are many ways to conceptualize Gaia, an Earth spirit. Some practice rituals that recreate ancient, pagan beliefs. Others find an avenue in believing that our western male God has no gender or was reformed by the feminizing influence of Jesus Christ whose message of love humanized a rather brutal deity of the Hebrew Bible. For quite a few people, religion or spiritual belief of any kind is a nonstarter. They don’t want any God or Goddess. Science is enough.
But for me it has been essential to recover the cultural history of the sacred female because I need to safely internalize the sense of power and authority that comes from knowing there WAS a Goddess. She DID get suppressed. God, identified as HE, is NOT enough. Female divinity is missing in western monotheism and that will always be true.
References to a sacred female often raise the threat of outsized mother power — a power that can trigger deeply embedded fear and opposition in those who have been badly mothered. The level of emotion generated around this idea reminds us that men and women both can have rather hateful memories of female power and wish never to see its face.
I’ve taken a long journey to owning the Goddess without fear — fear of being ridiculed for making outlandish claims, fear of exercising so much power that men would reject me, fear of violating a mountain of patriarchal thinking, fear of the darkness attributed to the sacred female, fear of the unknown, rejected, weak, maligned, dimly imagined face of a female creator.
I don’t actually believe in a personified deity, whether male or female, and that may seem paradoxical considering the mental state I entered that night in 2016. But coming to understand the prehistoric goddess, however dimly, has brought her alive as an archetype in my brain. And it feels wonderful. I don’t need a literal belief, but I do need to work through all the barriers that western patriarchy has raised against this sacred female.
I need to know that I — and all men and women —can hold a sacred image of the female without appearing to be crazy, frivolous or dangerous —off-balance in some way; that to exalt the mother does not diminish the father, that goddesses do not castrate men, that people once lived in harmony with such beliefs in the thousands of years before patriarchy.
Our minds often fall into opposing camps by thinking that if there had been a female divine, she must have been all powerful, like the Christian and Islamic male gods we are familiar with. But the evidence suggests that many, if not most, prehistoric people worshipped dual male and female gods. They had BOTH. Unlike modern humans, they did not argue over whether the divine spirit was male or female. A goddess was prominent, but she was not the only one.
At times, and in some cultures, there was an overarching female goddess. That was true during the early development of language in Mesopotamia, where Inanna became very nearly a monotheistic figure. This memoir will take you back to that period of early history as I resurrect the memory of Inanna in considering the terrifying aspects of a true nature goddess.
Most of my story, however, will delve into prehistory — the time before writing when archaeologists have only objects to interpret, without a recognizable language to direct those interpretations. I will take you on a journey into the deep past, 12,000 years ago, when human beings, at the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution, erected the first construction to endure through the centuries. It was not a house; it was a temple called Gobekli Tepe in what is now southeastern Turkey. The mysterious remains offer a Rorschach test for modern observers.
Similarly, other objects that survived into modern times from the Neolithic (period of the Agricultural Revolution) have generated multiple interpretations, marked by intense, often hostile debate.
An enormous trove of figurines representing the female body, dug from the ground in Europe, gave rise to the extensive work of archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. For years, the male-dominated field of experts called these artifacts “Venus figures.” Using the same and other objects, Gimbutas re-envisioned the entire European era and its remains as the “Civilization of the Goddess,” the title of one of her many books. Gimbutas galvanized a huge following, her work dominating European prehistory through the 1990s, giving new authority to many feminist scholars of religion.
A backlash began at the turn of the 21st century. One after another, archaeologists from the still male-dominated field began to deconstruct Gimbutas’ work, until now it is no longer even offered to students. The notion of a prehistoric goddess draws snorts of derision. I will take you inside this backlash demonstrating the extent to which gender dominates interpretation. All of us, experts and non-experts alike, have fallen victim to an image of the past created in the likeness of men alone. We see fighting, hunting, and tool-making as the drivers of human evolution. Rarely do we see the roles of women in that process.
The same male perspective resides in our story of genetic evolution during long years of change from non-human primates to modern humans. It’s common to believe that men have always been dominant (for various reasons, often physical strength). I will show how that is not true. From my studies in physical and cultural evolution, I have discovered that gender equality has been a harbinger of our species. We have governed together, both in the metaphysical world and in our everyday lives.
As I talked about this memoir to a close friend of mine, he wanted to know if there had ever been a peaceful egalitarian society in the history of humankind. He suffered from notions of male aggression — his aggression —fearing that it was inborn through evolution. This is such a common source of misery — to think we humans can’t live together in peace because our genes won’t allow it. What else are we supposed to think, coming from a century with two world wars and weapons that could destroy the earth in a quick flash?
Because so much of anthropology has been written by men, it suffers from an overemphasis on aggression, warfare and hierarchy. Archaeology in particular delights in discovering monuments, palaces, and rich burials — the impressive, beautiful remnants of the past. The field has little understanding of gender or social equality. So, it is all the more important to remember what we do know:
1. In equal cultures, gender is not a particularly important construct. Men and women do similar things. Androgyny thrives.
2. Belief in a goddess or female founder almost always accompanies cultural authority held by women in that society.
3. Men are not naturally violent; culture makes them so for the purpose of using them in warfare.
This chronicle of my lifelong search for gender equality will be based on verifiable evidence. I aim to present a persuasive argument that female authority — joined with male authority—creates more democratic societies than we have known for the past 5,000 years of patriarchy.
I use my personal story as a lens through which you, the reader, can see the origin stories that experts have created about human evolution. Details of my personal life mix with scholarly material to deliberately create a subjective narrative. The approach highlights the fact that all such stories found in the academy have been written from a gendered perspective — a point of view that emphasizes the lives of men while ignoring those of women. Although new, more egalitarian stories are being told now, there is much work to be done. We need to rebuild evolution's House of Knowledge with two pillars holding up the roof, not one. In this research memoir I hope to lay one more brick on that foundation.
Much of the energy behind this memoir comes from a lifetime spent in the quest for existential meaning in life. As I was growing into adulthood, tragedy scarred me, raising questions about God and existence that I had no capacity to answer. My parents couldn’t help; their own pain was too great. Teachers at the time were too insensitive. As a consequence, I was left alone at puberty in a way that set my course for life — away from the classic future for a woman of the 1950s and into a life of the mind. I wanted basic answers about why I was alive. And I wanted a voice.
Author Patricia A. McBroom, 2020