Who Invented Fire?
by Barbara Wilder
For the past 5000 years the majority of the world's cultures have functioned as dominator societies – that is, societies in which some people, usually men, dominate over others who are dominated. But before the dominator cultures became prevalent the people of world lived in much more partner-oriented societies. In these pre-dominator societies people worked together for the good of the whole. Instead of chieftains or kings, partnership societies had councils. Men and women were equals and everyone had a voice. War was unheard of and preserving life was of the utmost importance. In this pre-dominator era the Great Goddess was the mother of all.*
In the dominator era, which we are still living in, war and winning dominance over others defined the paradigm. Women, who had been revered in partnership-oriented societies, became chattel to be owned and won by men. To exude power in this new model, one had to own things. Until this time the concept of ownership had not existed. Women, who by their very nature threatened this new way of life, had to be subjugated. This wasn't an easy task. Women and feminine principles were a potent force. It took three or four millennia for the new model to achieve complete dominance.
As women became the property of men, they were taken from their mother's homes and given to the husband's family, thus breaking the strong bond of the ancient mother daughter relationship. Women's monthly lunar meditations in the red tent or the bleeding hut became illegal, therefore separating women during their most potent time. Women were for the first time in history dependent upon strong dominator men for their survival. A woman without a man lived outside of society. She had no way to make a living in this new society, unless she became a prostitute, and men made laws forbidding that profession. Suddenly women, who had been loving sisters, became rivals, competing for men to take care of them. Women were taught to hate and distrust their sisters based on the same strategy that the Roman armies used to take over the world, divide and conquer.
With the coming of Christianity, the final division of women was sealed. From that point on there were two distinct types of women, The Virgin type and The Magdalene type. Interestingly, both groups were named after women named Mary, a word derived from Mare, which means sea in all of the Romance languages as well as several others. Mare is also one of the most ancient words for Mother. With this division firmly established, the war between the virgin and the whore raged for 2000 years, keeping women separated and therefore powerless. Men had the best of both, keeping one woman as mistress, and one as wife and mother of his children. In Europe this way of life continues even today.
It came to be believed that these two kinds of women were natural enemies. This suited the dominators' purposes perfectly, for as long as women fought each other, distrusted each other, and hated each other, they posed no threat. Historically men's greatest fear has been that women would unite.
Since the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, this division between women has weakened considerably. The woman who sleeps around and the good wife aren't necessarily two separate women anymore. The line between the virgin and the whore has been softened. A woman doesn't have to be one or the other. We are integrating our virgin with our whore, and we are loving it. We have been split down the middle both as a sex and as individual women for two thousand years.
But let's go back and look at the pre-dominator era. In Paleolithic and Neolithic eras there is no evidence that human beings engaged in war. No weapons of war have ever been found in Neolithic archaeological sites. Though, we have been led to believe by science that dominance by an alpha male is the Homo-sapiens prototype, this assumption is finally being questioned. Until recently it was assumed that the Chimpanzee, an alpha-male dominated species, was our closest primate relative. The discovery of another primate species, the Bonobo, has caused some serious doubt in the scientific community. The Bonobos maintain a non-violent society, in which the female principles of nurturing and community are its mainstays. There are no alpha-males among the Bonobos. When the Bonobos need to work out their frustrations and differences they do it by having sex, which they do exuberantly many times a day.
At the dawn of the new millennium, a brand new picture of women and feminine principles is unfolding. As we learn more about our pre-historic female ancestors our own self-esteem is enhanced.
Recently while imagining our pre-historic mothers and grandmothers, it suddenly occurred to me that it must have been an older woman who discovered fire. I remember a drawing in my grammar school history book of a hairy man rubbing sticks together and making "the first fire". But what we know now of the Paleolithic era when fire was discovered suggests a much different theory. Men were the hunters. They left the cave and went on long hunting trips that lasted days and even weeks. The women stayed close to the cave. They foraged for berries and healing herbs, fed the babies, healed the sick and prepared the meat when the men returned. They ate the meat raw, because fire had not been discovered.
In this era the main focus was on survival. And the women's main concern was giving birth and keeping the babies alive to propagate the race – for this, feminine knowledge was requisite.
Imagine yourself as a grandmother in a Paleolithic tribe. You have learned a great deal about herbal remedies and food preparation. Over your long life, perhaps forty years, you have prayed to the Great Mother and have become adept at reading the signs she gives you. It is a bitter cold day. Two of the babies are struggling to stay alive. As a grandmother you are no longer tied down to the cave by nursing and mothering duties, so you go out to gather herbs, hoping to find a remedy for the babies' illness. A storm comes up. Lighting strikes a tree very close to you, and causes it to burst into flame. You have seen this happen in the past, but never before have you been so close to the fire. It frightens you, but before you run, you realize that the fire is warm. You think of the cold, sick babies at home. It occurs to you that babies die more often in the cold part of the year than in the warm summer months. You put two and two together. The warmth from this fire might help the babies live. You're afraid of the fire, but you are also woman. You know how important it is to keep the children alive. So, driven by your instincts for the survival of your brood, you pick up a piece of dry wood and stick it into the fire. It lights. Amazed and scared, you rush back to the cave with this possible cure for the children. You make a pile of sticks and create a bigger fire. The sick children huddle around the fire, and they live through the night.
Though we will never know for sure if this story is accurate, it is my contention that this story is just one example of how older women, the grandmothers, made all or at least most of the major discoveries of the pre-historic era. Older women were the nurturers and healers of an entire species. Men were busy hunting. They had no time for anything else. They invented and developed hunting weapons, because that was where their attention was, but the other innovations, such as fire, pottery, cooking, healing, and the wheel, all came under the auspices of the women.
Also, war was not something that these early peoples engaged in. During the Paleolithic era there weren't enough humans who lived, to waste life so unnecessarily. We banded together in partnership, helping each other survive. Partnership, community, nurturing, survival of the race – these are all feminine aspects of humanity. This is our heritage. This is the deep memory that we women must reconnect with, so that we can begin to remember just how powerful we are.
Excerpted from: In The Company of Powerful Women: Eleven Steps to Finding and Expressing Your Wisdom and Power in the Second Half of Life. Copyright Barbara Wilder 2001
* To learn more about dominator societies and partnership societies read The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler – Harper & Row, 1987
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