Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Goddess Who Would Be Isis - Pre-Wave Feminism and the archetypes of myth Part II(b)

So there we have in the last decade of the 19th century an assertion that the domestic woman as supporter of he military life of the state is an essential part of legitimacy. How does this parallel Hathor versus Eeset?

Let's go back to the anthropology of Hathor's story.

The major researchers of this period are Fred Wendorf and Romuald Schild, whose work is seminal, even when later researchers have called into question their conclusion, much of the first important organization of the artifacts and remains of the time are their work. It's worth noting that they produced several classic papers on food, burial, and technology, from which a great deal of what I am about to summarize comes.

Around 10,000 BP, Before Present, the arid period began ending around the Western Sahara, and the first permanent settlements are found. Climate was becoming more stable from year to year, and the monsoons were shifting north, creating oasis areas in the arid Savannah, which then began to gradually dry out again. Pottery began being deposited, as part of what could be called "intensified gathering." Saharan physical culture seems to have been part of a northern African culture, which spread as far as present day Nigeria, and the domestication of cattle separately may well have been part of this.

The physical culture spread first to smaller water sites, and not to the Nile itself. This is not the result of an accident of objects, since the clays from the pottery come from the outer regions. The nile was not where the agrarians lived at first. Around 8000 BCE, we find cattle burials, in large and organized way. Clearly, there is a cattle cult, where cattle are particularly important. By this point, cattle have been at least somewhat domesticated or herded. Some writers theorize that girls did the herding, but the evidence is that teenage boys probably did, from some of the rock art of that time period.

For roughly 4000 years there was a succession of cultures, based in different areas, and then rapidly weaving, new pottery forms, and most importantly a general pattern of settlement crop up very quickly. This is "proto-dynastic" or "pre-dynastic" Egypt. Metal replaces stone, trade begins. Artistic conventions, such as the oval eye, which would remain in place for thousands of years, were developed. Trade grew between the Nile, now the center of settlement as the desert oasis areas.

When an Egyptian polity emerges, it is created around the legitimacy of the cattle cult, as we can see from the first two objects we have from it: the Narmer Palette, and the Scorpion Mace-head. Each attests to the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under a single ruler, who is variously called Menes, Narmer, and perhaps Hor-Aha. All of these names could be for one person, three people, or a title that several people had. However, what is clear from these two objects, is that Egypt was unified, and the unified polity immediately began creating symbols and myths that justified it's power.

The Narmer Palette is particularly of interest. It has one of the first hieroglyphic inscriptions, and until recent discoveries, the oldest one we had. On it is the king, Narmer, about to ritually behead a defeated enemy, on the reverse side of the palate are beheaded enemies. It has the Horus symbol standing over victories, perhaps in the Nile Delta according to the most common interpretation pulling the brains out of the nose of an enemy head, and it has the bull symbol smashing the walls to a city, at the top, are ox heads, or perhaps cow heads, decorating the top. They are not bulls, as can be seen by the bull face below, which is square, not round. The palette celebrates the unification of upper and lower Egypt, or a battle that takes place after or as part of that unification.

The cattle goddess might already be here, in the form of the cow heads, but even if not, Hathor is named by some time in Narmer's dynasty, the "First Dynasty" of Egypt. Since the title Hathor means "house of Horus,' she is the mother of Horus, that is, the mother of the Pharaoh's icon. Hor-Aha, means Horus Fought, and is the name or title of a Pharaoh. Horus as well, though often a falcon headed god, was also depicted as a bull, perhaps the Palette references this, but even if not then it is part of the context.

Importantly the patron deities of both upper and lower Egypt were female. The titles of Narmer's queen consort included "beloved of the Two Ladies."

So the history goes like this: in pre-Nile culture, settlements grow up around wild grain, and gradually agriculture once the climate stabilizes. They begin herding cattle, and domesticating it. Then as the region becomes more arid, the Nile is settled and rapidly a trading, weaving, boating culture blooms. Key to the control of the Nile, is irrigation and plowing. The control of cows, oxen, and bulls, becomes the fundamental activity of controlling the proto-dynastic Nile. The Pharonic system establishes itself around a cult that controls these resources, including the use of bulls, and castration. How do we know castration? Because one of the sacrificial figures on the palette, is castrated.

So what is the role of the feminine in this anthropology? Much of what follows is summarized from Michael Brass' "Tracing the Origins of the Ancient Egyptian Cattle Cult", published in 2003.

The importance of unification is clear: it is the result of the bull god Pharaoh destroying resistance. The most logical analysis of the Palatte is that Narmer destroyed the capital of the Delta, lower Egypt, filled with a different kind of people, and beheaded the prisoners in a ritual fashion, and from this leveling of what is a revolt against his power, comes a unified Egypt. There are other interpretations, but each one must ask for special pleading as to why the palette would then be in the temple in the first place.

Unification comes from a legitimacy granted by the cattle cult, and by marriage to a Lower Egypt Princess, and to the protection of the female goddesses of the two parts of Egypt. The cattle cult was already well established, and the major goddesses were woven into it. We are talking, remember, about the Hathor cult, the domestic cult. Women keep the home, and as the Ra myth shows, brew the beer that allows people to drink and not die of infection.

So to control Egypt, to move back to my own argument, meant controlling a key technology, that of cattle as part of an agricultural, as well as herding, system. The pharonic system needed a myth that combined the three aspects of this system: the male bull, the female cow, and the castrated ox. The castrated ox was associated with dead and defeated enemies, and by extension the dead, the cow with the mother goddess, and the bull with male gods. It is not an accident that the same thing that makes fields fertile, that is excrement, is the source of the death that afflicts a culture going from sporadic agriculture to a unified society.

Now let's look at the anthropology of the anti-suffrage movement, in the form of Elihu Root, and Helen Kendrick Johnson. They argue for the woman's place in political disenfranchisement and maintaining the home as part of political unity. Anyone reading in 1890 would know that war meant "The Civil War" and the wars to subjugate the native nations of the American West. That is, political unity. It is also important to remember that the Victorian, without real cures, relied upon "cleanliness is next to godliness." Women kept the home clean, and for this, Root worships them.

The worship of the female is in the same pedestal way as 5000 years before in ancient Egypt, the men slay, parade, and rule, and the women are beloved bearers of children and keepers of the house. It is interesting to note that the palette that Narmer's victory and ritual human sacrifice or execution is celebrated on, is for grinding cosmetics.

The parallels in political situation, of a civil war, the importance of unification, and the relationship of the male war principle to the female domestic principle are almost exact, even though the Narmer Palette was not discovered until 1898, which meant that the story of Narmer was completely unknown to the anti-suffrage writers. We are speaking then of an archetypical pattern that recurs through history, and, in fact, as far back as there is history, all the way back to First Dynasty Egypt.

So the Hathor pattern repeats itself at great distance. So why Eeset? And how is the Eeset pattern repeated by First Wave Feminism?


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