Few people living in the developed countries of the world wouldn’t have heard of the creation account of Genesis central to the mythology of Semitic monotheism. As an exponent of the tribal Arian and Semitic psyche, the myth itself ascribes the creation of our universe to an entirely chauvinistic and compromised male Godhead named Yehovah-Elohim. In actual fact, everything that might be seen with the naked eye; the vault of the heavens with its sun, moon and stars, the earth composed of its mountains, seas, deserts, forests and plains, as well as the bipedal and quadrupedal creatures roaming upon it, were exoteric expressions of the Yehovah-Elohim’s inwardly-turned rumination and coming-to-be, or so we’re led to believe.
The Jewish mythographers who composed Genesis sometime between 950 and 750 bce adorned it with a host of interesting details not unknown to the history of religious ideas; in hovering over the primordial waters, Yehovah-Elohim created a supernal garden in the ethereal realm or paradise called Eden which he proceeded to divide into four quarters using four rivers as physical markers. At the garden’s exact centre he planted something akin to a world tree which contained all knowledge of good and evil. Many living things took up residence on the branches of this tree, including an aspersive and wily serpent. One of the last things Yehovan-Elohim did was to fashion human beings from clay. His first experiment spawned Adam, the first man. Then, realising the melancholia and loneliness that awaited man if he were to live alone Yehovah-Elohim took one of his ribs whilst he slept and made a secondary and hence inferior creation in Eve, the first woman. In taking the ubiquitous symbols of the World Tree, the serpent, paradise and the world parents, inverting and then transposing them into a cosmogony that was both literal and historical, the patriarchal masterminds behind this piece of Judaic mythography succeeded in instigating a series of events that were entirely retrograde in nature. The worst of the offenders was the implied creed that knowledge was in fact evil, something which no doubt contributed to the devolution of the intellectual world and its mode of critical inquiry, and harnessed psychological control of the masses through the promotion of blind obedience to an order in which the woman and the serpent were blamed for all that was wrong and evil in this world.
The first of these images, the World Tree, has been connected to matriarchal consciousness since humans first formed tribal communities. If one were to venture outdoors during the nocturnal hours and glance up at the heavenly constellations, he or she might imagine the place circumscribed by the circumpolar stars to be underpinned by a giant tree trunk or pillar with its roots wedged deep within the somnolent darkness of the ground and its branches stretching out into the heavens where it births fruit in the guise of star gods. Using the law of cosmic sympathy and analogy that defined the world of our ancient ancestors, the gargantuan tree itself unites the sphere of the earth, the land of the living, with that of the Underworld, the prima materia or life source, and the heaven, the place of rebirth. Hence the tree itself, whether World Tree or an ordinary eucalypt one might find in their back yard, is a material example of the formative forces of development and transformation at work in the cosmos that unite the three planes of existence and unconsciously circumscribe the fate of all living things. With roots in the underworld, trunk on the earth and branches in the heavens, the entire corpus of its body is a transformational vessel through which the corporeal, psychic and spiritual processes of birth, life, death and rebirth are all realised, yet it stands without as an unconscious entity unsoiled by the shackles of time or space. In many ways the World Tree is in fact the Great Mother Goddess or a form thereof, and the image of the serpent entwined within its branches is her animating spirit, the energies which fuel creation from un-creation and order from chaos.
There are ample examples of the matriarchal reckoning of the World Tree and the serpent from variant mythological traditions across the world. Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse cosmology around which nine other realms existed was intimately bound up with silver, the lunar metal and colour of the mother goddess. In Egyptian eschatological thought, two of the earliest deities known in Egypt, Nut and Hathor, were frequently depicted on the walls of tombs and mortuary temples in the form of sycamore tree goddesses offering sustenance to the bird-bodied souls (bas) of the deceased. As we have already seen, the serpent or snake comprised one of the many theriomorphic forms of the Great Mother Goddess in Egypt and had done so since the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100-2686bce). In a late Hellenistic myth composed sometime in 700bce, there was a sacred apple tree–or in some versions a whole grove–that grew in an orchard somewhere near the western horizon. The golden apples that grew in the orchard, called the Garden of the Hesperides, conferred immortality upon their mortal recipients and had been bred from a branch given to Hera as a wedding present when she wed the king and father of the gods, Zeus. The garden was tended to by the Hesperides, nymphs of the starry night, and safeguarded by a gruesome one-hundred-headed dragon called Ladon. Both the tree and the serpent reappear again in another Greek tale, in the mythical quest of Jason and the Argonauts. In this, one of the oldest and most widely celebrated myths of the classical world, the treasure guarded by the tree’s dragon, itself an extension of the divine feminine, is no longer a golden apple or apples but the fleece of the gold-haired winged ram more popularly known as the Golden Fleece.
In the Biblical account of Genesis Yehovah-Elohim fashions Eve, the archetypal mother of all living, from Adam’s rib. This divine act might be described as something of a bold insurrection against the natural ordering of things in the cosmos for life itself both arises and is brought forth from the womb of the female. Hence, in relegating Eve, the divine prototype of all women, secondary in the creational order and evolutionarily more distant from the divine origin and unity, the writers of Genesis were unconsciously verifying patriarchal premises that had been laid out by the Aryan and Semitic tribes centuries beforehand. These regarded the female inferior to the male and destitute of divine attributes that transcended the carnal self. In their eyes, women were more likely to succumb to temptations devised by the five senses and entertain endeavours that were at heart unlawful and morally corrupt. When left to her own psychic devices , Eve would inevitably succumb to her damning impulses and lead both her peers and herself to eternal damnation. Hence all the more reason why Eve should become Adam’s personal property and submit to his better grasp of moral righteousness. It is a patriarchal code that any first-time appraisal is bound to overlook given that its constituent aspects have been cleverly and subtlety woven into the moral fabric of the Genesis narrative. Nonetheless, one can be more than certain that the motif’s narrative latency is betrayed by gender-associated conventions and sexist attitudes that have unconsciously shaped perception and have unjustly persisted in human consciousness for thousands of years. Perhaps the most frightening thing about this devolutionary process is that it has seeped into the heart of communal values unnoticed and has remained there for God knows how long. (Please pardon the pun!)
The historical movement of gender egalitarianism or lack thereof is rampant with examples which attest to the truth of these assertions. These are particularly potent in cultures such as the Jewish and Greek where the folk observances and traditions of the pastoral and agrarian people have been watched over by the domineering eye of the patriarchate since they settled Goshen (Lower Egypt) and Greece proper, respectively. During the classical period of Hellenic history, a time heeded by many present-day romanticists to have been a Golden Age embodiment of utopian ideals, women were without voting rights or financial independence, and were precluded from intellectual endeavours of any sort or flavour. Similar values flourished in Hebrew culture where chastity and virginal purity were foremost of the virtues comprising a woman’s candidature to marry. In addition to this, her ability to obtain a divorce was precariously hinged on her husband’s consent. It goes without saying that the same limitations did not extend to men, who enjoyed lives that were far less regimented and more variegated by comparison. When Imperial Rome came to the forefront under the genius of Julius Caesar by conquering territories held by the aforementioned cultures, it inherited the pejorative Iron Age attitudes towards women that had been prevalent there for centuries on end and facilitated their diffusion across the globe.
To give an example most Greeks today remain faithful to traditional patrilineal values where both the female partner and the children born to a married couple inherit the paternal surname. This shouldn’t come as any great surprise seeing that as late as the 1800s it was a widely held that semen, the active male seed, was itself the unripened being that developed into a human baby after being planted inside the female, who merely provided the womb. In other words the male role in procreation was perceived as vastly superior to that of the female. Much more worrisome and arguably of greater concern is its potency in having infected the greatest intellectuals to have graced the planet. Aristotle himself, foremost of the Peripatetic school of classical philosophy, succumbed to the quixotic appeal of this patriarchal and orthodox syllogism. Even language reflects a bias and appreciation for the masculine sex as exemplified in the Biblical scriptures. “Ishshah” in Hebrew is the word for woman and means “taken out of man”, recalling the patriarchal idea that the female is a smaller and much lower aspect of a male equivalent which came first. This unjust dichotomy between what is in truth two equal parts of a whole also dribbled into the Old English language and found life in “wo-man”, a word which translates to “wife to man” and insolently immortalises the exact same sentiment.
It’s rather disconcerting that such tragic consequences can ensue from such banal mythographical detail yet here it is, palpably exposed in the historical exposition of a gender equity movement where the scales are rigorously tipped in the male’s favour. The irony at the heart of this misogynistic affair is that the details concerning Eve’s creation as a woman fashioned from a man’s rib isn’t really any original product of a clever and inventive mind but rather a pejorative inversion of a fair older Sumerian myth involving the mother goddess Ninhursaga and her god-child Enki. In this melodramatic encounter Enki is reproached by his mother for the incestuous act of raping his own daughters. The potency of her curse is such that he develops a grave illness characterised by a sudden deterioration of body parts. One of the first to undergo necrosis is his rib. In the Sumerian language the word “ti” can denote either rib or the act of bringing something to life. When Ninhursaga lays eyes upon her dying son her maternal instincts return, and she quickly reverses the effects of her evil incantation by bringing forth “Nin-ti”, a goddess whose magical powers successfully regenerate Enki’s necrotic rib. Here, the act of healing a rib and the act of giving birth are equated in “Nin-ti”, a goddess whose name literally means the lady of the rib but also the lady who makes live. So in picking apart this Sumerian myth, we catch glimpses of a matriarchal reckoning of the cosmos illuminated through an archaic literary pun which links the ideas of the goddess or woman, the rib or bone, birth, rebirth and regeneration. The writers who composed the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew language retained the rib symbolism in Yahweh’s creation of Eve, but the meaningful nexus that the Sumerian root words had illuminated between Eve, the new mother of all living things, and the rib as an implement of birth was lost in translation.
The ultimate betrayal of woman and her primeval guise as serpent comes in the latter part of the Genesis creation account when the mythographers implicate both as bringers of death and the sole reason for all humanity and nature to inherit ancestral sin and become fallen and accursed. In establishing his maat or cosmic order, Yahweh had made it clear that his majestic and enchanting garden was not open to interrogation by any of his minions per se. Curiosity or any digression from his spoken words constituted sin, a ‘lust of the eyes’ as fourth century theologian St. Augustine put it. In the minds of our patriarchal forefathers, it made perfect sense as to why Eve betrayed the divine command not to eat of the forbidden fruit hanging off the branches of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” which stood at the centre of paradise. Eve was a woman, and being the product of a divine cogitation deemed evolutionarily lower than that of man, she was much less disciplined, scrupulously moralled and credulous than he. Hence she was far more likely to believe fibs told by a devious and evil serpent and succumb to temptations that inevitably drove a permanent wedge between God and the most favoured of his creatures. Eve’s betrayal of the divine instigated a “Fall” which drew to herself, to Adam and to humanity as a whole a tragic condition of mortality marked by suffering, travail and the inevitability of death. The collective exoteric mind is gullible, superstitious and more or less ignorant so when these details of the Genesis myth entered consciousness they began to modify the cultural terrain of antiquity in a way that made it easy for the likes of Apostle Paul, St. Augustine of Hippo and other Early Church Fathers to freely express their own chauvinist attitudes against women and promote gender inequality without the threat of any reprimand.