The Irish male's obsession with history has given him a place to stand, a fortress of certainty: the stories of heroes, warriors, and saints have created a sacred space in the world where men could feel free of the humiliations and trivialiities of daily life imposed by their own or a conquering race or by the weight of economic necessity.
–Mary Condren - The serpent and the Goddess c.1989
Using Ireland as a case study, this book provides an account of the decline of matriarchal power in Western civilizations and analyzes its implications for today’s women and today’s Catholic Church. From the age of Eve to the age of Brigit to the age of Mary, the author traces the rise of patriarchial consciousness. Mary Condren is a former editor of Student Christian Movement Publications and the author of articles on men written for feminist liberation theory. The author has taught in the Women in Religion Program at Harvard University. (blurb from amazon.
It is great, working in a library, because sometimes you just come across a book that otherwise you never would even have seen. This one, The Serpent and the Goddess went out as a request, and the day it came back in I had just finished a book and was looking for something on my lunch break. So I picked this one up, figuring that if it wasn’t for me I could easily put it back. But I kept on reading and so decided I’d have to check it out and finish reading.
Starting in prehistoric Ireland this book looks at the role of women in society and how religion changed society and at the same time took away women’s power and rights. The author also looks at other cultures from time to time, she brings up on the Jewish religion changed from a tribal one to a centralised organised religion and state, similar to Ireland’s changes over the centuries.
And it makes for a fascinating, if depressing read.
Depressing because it really does seem as though every right women had in societies, every ounce of power, was slowly stripped from them and placed in the hands of men. And once they had that power they were never going to give it back without a fight.
I’m not sure that I buy everything that Condren argues for, she makes it all sound so calculated. As though priests got together and said, “how can we have more power and say in the world… I know, by taking it from women, so lets rule that they are the root of evil and so cannot be trusted”. But certainly that reading of history can be made. Maybe it didn’t start out as anti-women, but the best way to keep power for yourself to to create an “other” and say they want power, but they are evil and will corrupt everyone else, so best if we few chosen men keep the power.
It is well worth a read, even if you aren’t that interested in Irish history itself, as the rise of Catholicism/Christianity here mirrors what happened in other locations, and even if the details aren’t necessarily the same the overarching theme is.
Supposedly this book was huge when it was first published, I’d never heard of it before, but it was republished at least once, and considering people are still requesting it, it must still be getting coverage. It is well written and easy to read, but doesn’t dumb things down. Well worth taking the time to read it.
Some of the quotes I found interesting are collected here : http://www.susanhatedliterature.net/tag/the-serpent-and-the-goddess/