The Prehistoric Origin of Religion

Nov 2016
Why ignore prehistory? There could be invaluable information there too. I mean religion was still a thing there.
That´s true, of course, however the state of evidence for the prehistoric periods is quite disputed among historical scholars, so that prehistoric religion is a matter that ought to be dealt with separately - what is done with this thread.

First a quote from a still not completed study of mine on the Roman Mithras cult, then a quote from a study of my teacher, the leading German patriarchy critic Dr. Gerhard Bott ("The Cultural Revolution of the Sacred Marriage"), which was (not really perfectly) translated by me from German and put onto my page, of course with Bott´s agreement.


Divinity was initially, that is, in the Paleolithic, imagined as a universal feminine force--this is what E.O. James and Gerda Lerner and, to name a contemporary author in their wake, Gerhard Bott, take as a basis for their reflections on the history of religion. This basis is tenable insofar as a great deal of archeological material evidences Late Paleolithic worship of a ´primal mother´, the prototype of the ´Great Goddess´, whereas Late Paleolithic evidence of worship of male divinity cannot be detected even under a microscope but emerges only in the Neolithic after some thirty-thousand years of apparently exclusive goddess worship. The reason for that is simple: the concept of divinity means at its core a sacralization of vitality or life energy, what in the view of Paleolithic people is manifested in nature´s fertility and, moreover, in a ´natural´ cycle of birth, death and rebirth. As long as sexuality was not associated with human fertility because the male contribution to human (and animal) reproduction was not realized, the sanctification of fertility could only be tied in the feminine. Gerhard Bott writes in "The Invention of the Gods" (my translation from German):

As we previously saw there is no indication at all that the fecundity of the Great Mother had ever been related to sexuality during the Paleolithic: There is neither a sacred representation of a phallus nor of an ithyphallic fertility​-god nor of a sexual act of a human pair. This is a highly remarkable but scarcely noticed fact: All archeological findings indicate that a causal relation between sexuality​ and fertility had not yet been realized, as is shown by the record that, indeed,​ female fertility had been considered and represented as sacred, but never sexuality.
It is of utmost importance that 9 centuries after the beginning of the Neolithic Mode II (ranging about 8900-7000 BCE, H.Tr.) the first artefacts were manufactured, clearly representing a sanctification of sexuality and, concomitantly, of paternity combined with an appearing​ ithyphallic god. From this close archeological-historical context we see how fast a consciousness-altering insight, as was the interrelation of sexuality and fertility, diffused.

The Sanctification of Sexuality in the Neolithic and Paternity, p.1

In its later stages religious thought strives to escape this cycle in favor of an eternal salvation of the soul, first in India, in Iran, and in Egypt, then in Asia Minor, in Greece, and in the Roman Empire (...)

Of course it may seem problematic to apply the term ´goddess´ to concepts which in all probability missed features like those being generally associated with goddesses, such as a personal name, an ego-personality, and a specific function within a group of otherwise specialized deities. However, if we strip this culturally elaborated concept of a ´goddess´ of these secondary features we get what is historically and psychologically primary: the innermost molecular structure of the goddess-idea, an all-pervading and all-embracing womb-like force which promotes the natural processes of fertility and even the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. So the ultimate „foremother who was venerated as Great Mother“, Bott writes, „was nature itself; she had not been seen as a personalized creator being separated from nature, so she was both natura naturans and natura naturata (...)“

Now, with regard to the psychological womb function of caves, German ethnologist Hans Peter Duerr is certain that „the ice-age hunters took the caves as a female body and some special parts of the caves, the rock chambers, as an uterus“ (my translation from German).

However Duerr does not mention the gathering women who played the central part not only in the economic sphere but in cave cults, too, as recent research has suggested. Hence it would in the economic context make more sense to speak of ´gatherer-hunter-societies´ than--as is common practise among scientists--the other way around, thus exaggerating the male role in the search for food. As to shamanism, it was hitherto agreed that prehistoric shamanism was for the most part practised by men. However, a study from 2013 by Prof. Dean R. Snow shows that handprints with the meaning of ´signatures´ of cave rock paintings display for the most part signs of female gender. (Quelle) So in Late Paleolithic, shamanistic practice had presumably been a matter majorly for women.

Siegfried Vierzig is in accord with Duerr´s associaton of cave and female anatomy: „Caves were regarded by early humans as the maternal body of the earth, with the entrance as a vagina and the inner space as an uterus. Inside the cave occurred the mystery of rebirth out of the womb“. (my translation from German)

Numerous Late Paleoltihic caves contain vulva depictions and V-like signs. In El Castillo four intensely red painted vulvas are placed beside a black arrow sign. In Bedeilhac a vulva is most lifelike sculptured in the clay soil, showing the clitoris. The entrance of the cave of La Magdeleine in France presents two reliefs to each side, showing women with emphasized three-sided pudendas. To take such depictions as mere sexual symbols instead of symbols of regeneration would be an anachronistic misreading. Vierzig comments: „Visitors of the cave should know that they were situated in the earth´s womb where the rebirth of animals and humans takes place as part of the cyclical cosmic renewal“. (my translation from German)

That those cult caves represent the prototype of all later temples and churches is more or less consensus among contemporary historians of religion. The Neoplatonist Porphyrios, to name a voice from the 3rd century CE, already assumed that in the days when there were still no temples, all religious rituals took place in caves.

As provisional results we can stress, firstly, the psychological equivalence of ´cult cave´ and ´womb´, and, secondly, the derivability of the Mithraic cave from Paleolithic cult caves which were apparently related to the idea of an exclusively female cosmic force. The absence of any reference to a maternal figure is symptomatic of the suppression of the idea of female divinity within Roman Mithraism, what on the earthly level is mirrored by the exclusion of women from the cult.


The invention of male gods began with the ithyphallic fertility-god, symbolized by the bull, with whom every priest-king in all bovidic cultures could identify. It is the fertility-god who, as a groom and co-genitor in the Sacred Marriage, is assigned to the Primordial Mother, who had been transformed from the Great Mother to a fertility-goddess. This Neolithic fertility-god becomes the archetypical primordial male god since there is no Paleolithic male god.

The myths of the Sacred Marriage remind us of how difficult it was in social reality for the male to establish his rights as procreator, co-genitor and father. In myths (as well as in the archeological reality of Catal Hüyük) the first male god starts as son of the great mother-goddess, i.e., as a pure mother´s son without any father. We see: As a concept of kinship the son existed before the father.

This fact can still be observed by looking at the later Greek GAIA.
This "Son-Spouse" or "Son-Mate" is invariably the "Bull of his Mother" and her paredros, thus revealing how low the priest-kings had to begin their career on the scale of sacredness.

Hence, the mythical Primordial Parents historically commence as mother and son, and that seems to be the male´s trauma, worked off by the mythographors.

We will see below how the male, especially in the equidic cultures, pursues his revaluation and upgrading within the divine pantheon, and how he makes progress with the relentless devaluation and downgrading of the goddess by means of his Political Theology. However, the mythical appearance of the fertility-god as son of the Great Goddess must not lead to the erroneous belief that motherson- incest had been practiced in reality. (see chapter IV). This mythical constellation is easy to explain: The new god, the first God invented by males to mirror themselves, could not simply fall from heaven. According to the theology of that time, like all human beings he needed to have a mother, so he could theologically only be the son of the self-created Great Mother. From the first beginnings of the bilinear fertility-cult around 7.000 BCE, it will take more than 5.000 years until the Political Theology succeeds in establishing a male god as "Self-created".

7. The Sacred Marriage Rite is not only a fertility-cult, although this is the origin, but also a rite of legitimation of kingship, sanctified by the goddess. As the ruling priest-king, the monarchic king identifies with the first male god in human history, with the "bullish" phallic fertility-god the Sacred Marriage with the goddess is also the great rite which makes the ruler, in a public ceremony, participate in the heavenly blessings, i.e., hierarchy on earth receives its holiness and divine consecration by means of the Sacred Marriage Rite. As the Great Goddess chooses the priest-king as her groom, his Lordship becomes legitimated through the temple, or His Majesty is regenerated, as can be seen in the king´s ordeals at the Egyptian SED-festival. Therefore, we can recognize these rites as the onset of the later concept of the well known "god-given right of kingship”, but, in fact, in its origin it is a "goddess-given right of kingship".
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