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The Conference on the Black Madonna, 
and my  Open  Letter to Rosemary Radford Reuther,
Keynote Speaker


by  Janie Rezner,  MA,             

Artist,   Grandmother and Spiritual Feminist Warrior

July,  2005, Mendocino County, California

Photgraphs by Jacqueline Manley

My  profound spiritual journey began twenty-five years ago and since then my life work has been "heralding the return of the Great Ancestress, from the depths of soul to awakening consciousness,"   through my music and writing and art and life.  I am also a programmer on KZYX in Philo, CA  for Women's Voices, www.kzyx.org  and interview women from across the country who have  devoted their lives to making a difference in the troubled  and violent patriarchal world we find ourselves in.  I  have interviewed Riane Eisler a number of times.


In early June, I attended the Conference on the  Black Madonna,  created  by China Galland and held at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.  There were many well-known Bay Area figures  there, presenting, displaying their art, or performing,   including Luisa Teish,  Mary Beth Moser and "The Black Madonnas of Italy,"  Lisa Rafel, Patrice Winn, Lucia Birnbaum, author of  "Dark Mother and the Change of Paradigm,"  author Rosemary Radford Ruether,  the keynote speaker, and  Linda Tillery's passionate  singing and drumming.  


The Conference began in the airy church sanctuary at the top of what's known as "seminary hill" in Berkeley.   Over two hundred women attended this all day event.   Lydia Ruyle's  beautiful Goddess  Spirit Banners of the Dark Mother  were hung throughout the sanctuary  and Annie Hallet's huge Black Madonnas stationed at the front of the church were stunning.   At the beginning of the event  several stately  Black Madonnas processed slowly down the isle;  a powerful scene.   Then came the blowing of the conch shell and the calling in of the four directions by Rev. Sandy Gess, followed by  Lisa Rafel's  wonderful vocalizations  as she played a singing bowl.   . . . . . a beautiful beginning. 

I was thrilled to be able  to attend  an event that brought  many wonderful women together  honoring the Sacred Feminine, and felt  grateful to China for her  work in making it happen.   Each  presenter spoke for a few minutes as we sat in the sanctuary. 

Outside the building were  presenter's displays of their books or art  for sale --and the afternoon was a  series of hour long workships.   Judith Tripp had set up a Labryinth  on the grass which was  available for walking mediation, and one could also view Cindy Pavlinac's extraordinary photographs of ancient Godesses and sanctuaries.   


              It was  rather  intense in the afternoon,  people rushing around, trying to find a seat in the workshop of their choice . . . .some of the workshops very crowded.   Except for a couple of exceptions these  workshops were actually presentations with the presenters talking and or showing slides.   By and large the day was a generally passive experience for the participants.  We were there to listen and learn.  However, I met some very interesting women over lunch and  in the bathroom .   I talked with a woman who came from Minnesota, a sister artist from Bellingham, Washington,  and ate lunch with a woman  from southern California.   It was  a  time for interacting and briefly  sharing our own truth.


    I had a good  experience in the afternoon with Lucia Burnbaum,  "Dark Mother" author and professor of Philosophy and Religion at CIIS, and with  Jennifer Colby, "Guadalupe and the Virgin Image in California: A Call to Action" exploring the transformative role of art making in social, ecological and spiritual change" talking about the  Galeria Tonantzin in Watsonville, CA which exhibits contemporary images of the Virgin each year at Christmas. 


    I was  glad to have been there.  However, there was a situation that gave me concern  at the time  and has continued to do so, so much so that I felt called to respond to it.   The keynote speaker was Rosemary Radford Ruether, author of "Goddesses and the Divine Feminine"   who I was not familiar with.  In her talk she said things that puzzled me,  such as "we really can't know our history."    


    I spoke to Rosemary  Ruether  after her talk, asking if she knew  Riane Eisler's work.  Rosemary's response  was dismissive of Riane Eisler's research and writing about  our pre-history,  suggesting   our early beginnings were neither peaceful, nor egalitarian, nor without violence,  and further said that some of those early Goddess figures probably weren't  really of the Goddess.      Riane Eisler had previously  mentioned to me that there were women scholars who were dismissing  her work, and the work of Maria Gimbutus as well.   What a surprise and a concern to encounter one of those scholars at the Conference on the Black Madonna!


    In these dark days of regression to a more and more harsh patriarchal model, where repression of women's bodies in this country looms even greater on the horizon,  and the compassion and nurturing  characteristics of the mother are completely disregarded,      I believe this is not just a little  disagreement about what happened a few thousand years ago.   To refute humanity's  known peaceful existence for the many thousands of years we lived in harmony with each other and the earth,  knowing that we were the children of the Great Mother . . . is a highly POLITICAL act.  It says that peacefulness is not our basic nature,  thereby excusing violence.    And,  it denies the existence and the innate wisdom of the Mother, which was  honored and respected throughout the world in  earlier times and is so sorely needed today.


Dear Rosemary, 

            I'm hoping you will find a moment to read my letter,  for I'm responding to the points you made in our recent conversation   after your talk, "Why Do Men Need the Goddess?" at the Black Madonna Conference held at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.   Your disagreement with Riane Eisler's conclusions (and others) regarding how life was  structured in the Neolithic and Paleolithic periods, including your theory that women were subordinate to men in those early days  sparked many thoughts for me since my own profound spiritual journey of the past twenty-five years has been devoted, through music, art, sculpture and writing and life itself, to "heralding  the return of the Great Ancestress." 


    You wrote in your talk for the Conference "that we cannot know with much certainty what the cultures were like before written history in the Ancient Near East, or elsewhere."  It seems to me, after looking at the details shown in the following work  and a multitude of other scholarly work that we can , indeed, know a great deal about early history.  In addition, we as sentient human beings can tune into our deep inner wisdom--and any mother holding her baby can tell you that living in love and harmony, without fear,  is "how it is supposed to be." 


  I consider it a painful  injustice to  the thousands of years that we lived in harmony on and with our Mother Earth, woman and man alike, gratefully honoring  the abundance that the Great Ancestress had provided us with, including the gift of life  itself . . . . . .that you so freely dismiss our truly sacred beginnings.   It is those beginnings that we are being called upon to remember, if  life on earth is to survive. 


    In the written version of your talk you  state that  "Most feminist paleoanthropologists doubt that there were societies that were female dominated and totally harmonious between men and women, humans and nature.  In my view some of the tensions from which later hierarchy developed were probably present before in nascent form.  Growing ability to accumulate and concentrate wealth allowed these nascent tensions to become explicit.  These are guesses from complex sets of fragmentary evidence pulled together from many sources."  


    And, you further say, "My historical research suggests that the powerful goddesses that we find, such as Inanna, Ishtar, Anat, Isis and Demeter, were not "survivals" of some original pro-woman great goddess that goes back to Paleolithic times.  Rather . . . .an invention of the early urban period  of the 4th to 3rd millennium BC.    . . . . . . "

    It is to these important points you make  regarding our past, that I am responding.  And, why I sent you Dr.James de Mao's well-researched work, "The Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence, In the Deserts of the Old World,"  ................  which examines global geographical patterns of repressive, painful, traumatic, and violent, armored, patrist behaviors and social institutions, which thwart maternal-infant and male-female bonds.   James de Mao writes,

            "A systematic review of archaeological and historical materials suggests that patrism first developed in Saharasia after c. 4000 BCE, the time of a major ecological transition from relatively wet grassland- forest conditions to arid desert conditions.  Settlement and migration patterns of patrist peoples were traced, from their earliest homelands in Saharasia, to explain the later appearance of patrism in regions outside of Saharasia.  . .

  prior to dry conditions in Saharasia, evidence for matrist cultures, whose social institutions are designed to protect and enhance the pleasurable maternal-infant and male-female bonds, is widespread, but  evidence for patrism is generally nonexistent.  It is argued that matrism  constitutes the earliest, original, and innate form of human behavior and social organization, while patrism, perpetuated by trauma-inducing social institutions, first developed among Homo Sapiens in Saharasia, under the pressures of severe desertification, famine, and forced migrations.

         The psychological insights of Wilhelm Reich provide an understanding of the mechanism by which patrist (armored, violent) behaviors become established and continue long after the initial trauma has passed."    http://www.orgonelab.org/saharasia.htm

     De Mao’s work, like many others,  suggests that we have spent most of our time on earth  without violence and war-fare;  instead, living in a cooperative,  harmonious and pleasureful way with each other. 

You write, tongue in cheek, "For the many feminists who have identified with these ancient Goddesses as the basis of a renewed Goddess-centered religion today,  . . . . . . the view has been taken as a kind of unquestionable article of faith, integral to a myth of origins.  This myth of origins assumes that there was once a culture, possibly world wide, for most of human history until the last few thousand years, in which a matricentric, if not matriarchal, society flourished, human were in harmony with each other and nature, and a female-personified deity expressed the immanent life energy that cycled through the earth as one community.  This happy culture was over thrown by patriarchy and its female deity repressed by a male monotheism that enshrined estrangement, hierarchy, domination and violence. 

            You continue, "Any continuing ways in which deity is symbolized as female/feminine can only then be " survivals" of that earlier matricentric religion, continuing covertly within patriarchy.    And, "Although I am very sympathetic to the need for a redemptive alternative to the systems of violence that presently threaten humanity and the earth, I find myself skeptical toward a great deal of this explanatory story line or myth of origin."

            There is a sacred bond between mother and child.  And, it is this sacred bond that the Great Mother embodies.    Does not  your  gift of life come from your own mother, whose body cared for you? 

            Is it  hard to imagine a world where life was  honored and understood to be sacred?  Where the land itself was considered sacred, with it's beauty and abundance of food and water and air --  where it was received in gratefulness as a gift from the Great Mother?   This is what it means to live in a "sacred way."  Native peoples the world over have lived that life, woman and man alike--knowing they were  children of the Great Mother.     And, in those earlier days, the earthly mother's  wise ways  were sought after and recognized for what they were; after all, she birthed the young and mothered and protected and cared for them  into adulthood.  (Not unlike the animal world!)  Her life experience  as the creator of life was honored.  And, the grandmother's role as a wise continuing protector of life recognized even more so.

            “The reason we call her mother is because she, of the TWO types of creatures here on earth, births the offspring.  Having offspring is the determining factor for the title, isn't it?  That's why we call her mother, because she IS one.  A mother creates life.

            This most important and profound act of nature, without which all of life would immediately end, clearly sets woman apart from man and shows her to be the creator of ALL life, from tree to plant to fish to us.

            Every one of us on earth lived our first few months of awakening consciousness in the precious warmth and comfort of our mother's womb.  That's where our life began.  We are each the product of our mother's love.  Her body loved us and took care of us, even before we emerged into this life. 

            And, we certainly loved her!  We were part of her body;  we lay in a warm bath next to her heart and were comforted by its steady beat.  We were like two peas in a pod.  Two peas of consciousness inside the same skin.  Two souls within a single body, acutely aware of each other.

            We were filled with love for her.  Our little hearts brimmed over with love.  After all, she was our MOTHER.

            Those Levite priests spun a tale that has survived for five thousand years and still affects countless women, (and men too, for that matter).  For it is in the Bible.   Not only did the male god create woman from man, but our sons became "sons of Man."   The mother is left out." 1 

            Your comment above  regarding our "nacent tensions"  suggests that you think the human heart  given the opportunity, has a natural bent to greed and violence.  This touches a deep question.  Does the baby  come into the world with a heart of love,  or something akin to "original sin"  with tendencies toward greed and the like?

            As a student of  psychology of the heart, and life   . . .  and the mother of  three children and four grandchildren, I can clearly answer that  a little child comes into the world with a very tender, open and loving heart . . .needing motherly care and protection.  That is our "natural" state-- in spite of  what  patriarchal religion has declared.  

            The question we must ask,  since we each come into the world in a state of love,  is where does  violence, sexual abuse of women and children, greed and war-fare come from, if it hasn't been lurking in the shadows of the human heart?   Where did it come from, and why does it continue?    Aren't these the questions that must be addressed if we are to pull ourselves out  of the destruction of all life, set in place by the creation and perpetuation of patriarchal forces . . . . so clearly delineated in  Riane Eisler and James de Mao's writings?      Riane Eisler's life is dedicated to answering  these important questions.   We are each spiritual beings, whether we are aware of it or not, in human form . . . . .and we have a task ahead of us;  nothing less than preserving  life on earth. 

            I remember the millions of people and other beings, throughout the world, who are suffering starvation and rape and torture, dying terrible deaths, at this very moment; children and women and men.  Deaths caused by the psychotic greed, arrogance and perversion that permeates the patriarchal mind where there is a hardened heart . . .  whether in this time or in the Middle Ages.  Violence  begets violence.  This is a  world without  the qualities of the Sacred Feminine,  without  compassion and nurturing,  integrity and  justice.   This is a world that scorns the maternal instinct, and doesn’t permit a mother to protect her own child.  This is not a woman’s world.

             I want to acknowledge the suffering of the innocents, and say, “there will be no peace until there is peace everywhere and most especially in the hearts of patriarchal men.”   The great wounding must be healed.  But first, it must be addressed.

            In reading the writings I am hoping that your  heart will open to the possibility that we began in love, and it  is to love that we must return. 

Thoughtfully,                                                                                                                            Janie Rezner    

 (First published in www. AwakenedWoman.com , Aug, 2005)

 1 "A Wake-Up Call from Mother God"  Janie Rezner, 1997 unpublished

 I believe James de Mao’s work  based on recent developments of global anthropological data bases  and the computer is significant information.   What James de Mao  has done is most remarkable for he has  exposed the story of our life and how patriarchy came into being!       Thank you, James De Mao!!    Why isn't the world  flocking to his door?  His web site is most interesting reading for those curious about our past.

Dr. James  DeMao writes:

"These findings were made possible only by virtue of recent paleoclimatic and archaeological field studies (which revealed previously hidden social and environmental conditions), and by the development of large, global anthropological data bases composed of cultural data from hundreds to thousands of different cultures from around the world. The microcomputer, also a recent innovation, allowed easy access to such data, and the preparation within a few years of global behavior maps which otherwise would have taken a lifetime to prepare. My approach to these questions also constituted one of the first systematically derived, global geographical reviews of human behavior and social institutions, uncovering a previously unobserved, but clear-cut global pattern in human behavior."                                                                                         

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