When farming came along - if you have ever actually tried existing as a hunter-gatherer you will understand with piercing, tummy-aching clarity what the advantages of farming are - these freely given gifts slowly embarked on a journey that ended when they became 'produce'. Clever little beans that we are, as our population increased and we strayed into territories that were not necessarily as fertile as the one's we had left, we found a way to increase the odds of there being any given foodstuff where we wanted it when we wanted it. Sadly over time we have become so disconnected from the original source of all that we fondly imagine that we are completely in control of the process, that as we buy and sell and hoard our 'goods' we are making the world a better place, few of us noticing that it is to the advantage of the few not the many that these things are organised. We have fallen out of relationship with the Mother of All Things.
Farming originated in Sumer around 4,000 years ago and it seems from the records that no sooner did we start to farm we changed from a society with equal rights for everyone to one that started to dis-empower and denigrate the feminine. Agricultural surplus meant that particular landscapes became worth invading and fighting over. War was what made men great and military leaders became more important than the goddesses of the land. There is an often relayed myth that says in early Celtic society land had always been owned by women and passed down through maternal blood lines, there is apparently no written evidence for this assertion but scholars suggest that there may be considerable truth in the 'myth' simply because it has been related as fact so frequently in what was written down. Either way, times clearly changed and even among the Celts the rights of women were eroded, Goddesses were conquered by Gods, women became chattels. Time passed in an increasingly masculine world until according to a book written in 1777 (by that prolific author 'anon') "in Saxon times, the rank and consequence of women appear to have been considerable..... the Norman invasion was fatal to the rights of women." With the Normans came a lineage of brutal Christian kings and the 'Doomsday Book' - a giant list of all the things that these kings had dominion over. It is interesting to note that it was the Church that owned one quarter of all the land in England!
In these islands the dis-empowerment and denigration of the feminine reached it's height during the 'witch trials' of the 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries. Christianity had arrived here in dribs and drabs with the Romans in the first century AD but really gained a hold in 597 with the arrival of Augustine. Much of Europe and small patches of what is now the United Kingdom were not officially Christianised until as late as the 11th Century but churches were built upon sacred places, local Goddesses were turned into Christian Saints and the feminine became not sacred, not even just a little bit less good than the masculine - but the very embodiment of Evil. Christianity is a masculine religion, it speaks of the Father of All Things, not The Mother. The followers of this father and his son took it upon themselves to root out belief systems that did not concur with their own. Before Christianity the majority of healers were women; among the healing wisdoms of such women were the herbs, charms, positions and potions required to bring a child safely to birth - they were honoured and respected until the Inquisition announced that no-one did more harm to the Catholic faith than midwives. A new law was passed saying that anyone who was 'curing' without having studied at a university was a witch and must die. Since most women were barred from university this was a guarantee that women's healing powers and relationship with the healing properties of plants, spirits and intention would have to either end or hide.
As women's power was taken away from her so was the land taken away from the people - and vice versa. The first enclosures of common land that we know of here in Britain happened in the 12th Century. Enclosure meant farming that was undertaken by the many became to the advantage of the few. Vast swathes of common land and 'open fields' were enclosed and access to common land severely restricted. Access therefore to free food and medicine and engagement with the land as Sacred Ground became made smaller and smaller as the rights of 'owners' became more and more violently enforced. Rebellion was frequently followed by charges of witchcraft and something in the order of 2,000 women were killed in 300 years. The global figure is thought to be more like 9 million, we actually got of very lightly here. Torture was not a legal way to extort confession and being tried as a witch in The British Isles was not necessarily a death sentence - only about 25% of those tried were actually killed. The story is not the same elsewhere in Europe and America where horrific tortures were endured and death was the almost certain outcome of an accusation of witchcraft. We get the expression 'the third degree' from these times - people, mostly women, were tortured in ways that every part of me cringes away from, I cannot even write about it. Many confessed having been tortured once, most confessed having been tortured twice, everyone either confessed or died having been tortured three times.
It is no co-incidence that one of the most powerful symbols of 'witchcraft' is the cauldron. What is a cauldron if not a creative container - a wombic space? It is the creative nature of Woman and her connection to the Earth and the Cosmic Womb that the masculine has sought to limit. We have been persecuted for our authentic power; for living our creativity, our sensuality, our intuition and our wildness. Throughout our history (subsequent to the advent of farming) the masculine has sought to dis-empower the feminine and attain 'power over' because he does not have 'power of'. Our history has been moulded by misogynists and as it is always written by the winners we have suffered grievously at it's hands. The Malleus Maleficarum (a handbook for witch-hunting and identification) was written in 1486 by two monks at the instigation of Pope Innocent the 8th and it singled out women as the primary practitioners of witchcraft. This one book was responsible for generations of children watching as their mothers, sisters and aunts burned at the stake throughout Europe and the New World. Between 1486 when it was written and 1736 when the Witchcraft Act was repealed paganism became devil worship and what little remained of our 'folk' customs (for which read living relationship with the Spirits of the land) became heresy.
The enclosure of our common resources; from land and forests to the inhabitants of the oceans and the water itself, is still happening now. All things are increasingly creeping into 'private' ownership. Our sacred relationship to the land is our power, but more than that we ARE the land; we are sovereignty. By 'we' I do not exclusively mean women, I mean the feminine in all of us. This may well sound like a polemic against men but I assure you it is not. It is not even a polemic against the masculine or indeed one against Christianity. We are all of us a balance (or an imbalance) between masculine and feminine energies. Typically but not exclusively the feminine will be most powerfully expressed by a feminine body. But the land belongs to all of us, she has given birth to all of us, she is our most ancient ancestor. The de-humanisation and subjugation of half of the population is the de-humanisation and subjugation of half of all of us. The feminine has been dis-empowered, or at least our connection to her deep authentic wildness has. The common ground of our humanity has been fenced. We and our land are being abused; we know this in our bones, in the very beating of our hearts. Bones and a heart that are made out of the same stuff exactly as all the rest of creation.
HOWEVER - In actual fact, women in the west have more rights at this moment in history than at any time in the last 4,000ish years. There are women in positions of power from Germany's chancellor to Canada's 50% female government. I beleive that this is 100% connected to the land. When survival was an issue the feminine was honoured - when we invented farming survival was not an issue in the same way, it didn't feel necessary to acknowledge the power of the land, of Earth, of the feminine, so we stopped. We forgot our lives depended on Her. Now, our survival is once again in question. Humanity has brought Earth to the brink of collapse. Species are being wiped out at a rate of dozens every day as a result of our treatment of our home, the biosphere is clearly unstable, global warming is quite possibly out of control and it might be too late. Self interest is reviving our connection to the Divine Feminine, we've remembered we need her. What's needed now is for us to move beyond patriarchy and beyond feminism to the place where the feminine and the masculine are honoured in all of us and exist not in warring polarity but in balance. Only then will we start to be able to create a world where respect and tolerance are the norms and where 'all that is' can exist peacefully. Everything is made up of the same stuff, everything has spirit, everything IS an emanation of The Divine. Perhaps if we can bring ourselves back into balance then we can bring our world back into balance. If we can re-empower the feminine, love, honour and obey Mother Earth and remember that we are all of us responsible for patriarchy then we can change the outcome. Or, even if it is the End of Days, let those days at least be days of beauty.