Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Legacy of the Amazons

The onslaught of the patriarchy sometime around 5000 years ago, must have caught the feminine-guided centers of civilization pretty much unaware and totally unprepared. Who among these peaceful, progressive, weaponless peoples could have imagined the swashbucklers from hell, slashing their blades, flashing their gods forcefully in all directions, like cutting winds, frigid enough to freeze the soul?

When the cultures clashed, the Goddess did not just roll over and die. She put up a damn good fight. She sized up the situation and proclaimed, like Dolores Ibarruri, "La Pasionara," the anti-Franco folk heroine of the Spanish Civil War (the Pilar character in For Whom the Bell Tolls), "It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!"

She took a deep breath of air, of water, of fire, of earth, and pronounced, like any native North American brave on the way to battle, "Today is a good day to die." She rolled up her sleeves, tied back Her hair, stuck out Her tits and proposed, "Make my day!"

She learned to ride horseback and to brandish an axe. She armed her priestesses and defended Herself as best She could. But when the bloody battle was done, She was deposed, denied, denounced, and deflowered. Desecrated, decimated, defamed, and defeated. She was not, however, definitively conquered. She gathered her strengths, Her endurance, Her resourcefulness and resolve, and She joined the underground where She became a guerilla soldier.

My life is in flames.
He made me walk through the brambles
on the mountain.
He stripped me of the crown correct
for a high priestess.
He gave me a dagger and a sword, and said:
'Turn them against your own body.
They are made for you.'

- From "Inanna and the Arunna" a poem by Enheduanna, Sumerian woman poet ca. 2300 BC

The prehistoric battle between the matrilineal and patrilineal perspectives has been mythologically preserved in the widespread legends of the Amazons, a presumably fictitious matriarchal race of women warriors devoted to the Mediterranean Great Mother Goddess known variously as Artemis, Gaea, Thea, Hera, Demeter, Diana.

The Amazons seem to have occupied a time and place just at the cusp of the widespread changeover from a Goddess-centered, Earth-oriented, circular spirituality to the male-dominated worship of a hierarchical and abstract father sky god.

These warrior women exhibited characteristics of both traditions and were an interesting amalgam of the old and new world orders. They were led by queens, prayed to a divine mother and worshipped the female principle. They tilled fields, hunted, and befriended animals. They were cultured and practiced the graceful arts. They also knew and used arms, did battle, and sought vengeance.


The Amazons were said to have ruled large areas of North Africa, Anatolia and Asia Minor. They founded such great centers of civilization of the ancient world as Ephesus, Smyrna, Cymes, Samothrace, Myrine, Paphos, Lesbos, and Cyrene. Libya, that is, the entire ancient North African region save for Egypt, was also Amazon territory according to Herodotus.

Revealing their fear and hatred, the Greeks describe the Amazons as women-only societies of barbaric and blood-thirsty Goddess-worshipping hunters in their mythology. They were said to kill and offer as a sacrifice any man who wandered uninvited into their community. They did, though, voluntarily consort with men from neighboring tribes once a year when they hosted their annual mass impregnation party.

The Amazons were the priestess/guardians of the Moon Goddess, lunar handmaidens accompanying Her on Her monthly circle promenade round the sky. They built a shrine at Ephesus devoted to the many-breasted Artemis, friend of the wild animals, the huntress who ventures forth in the moonlight to combat evil. This Amazon sanctuary was destroyed by barbarians in the 7th century BC.   

Northern Europe also had Amazon-like female Viking warriors and leaders. The  German city of Ulm, named for the grove of sacred elms, ulmae, the preferred sanctuary of the Goddess Artemis/Diana, was ruled by Amazons until the age of Alexander the Great.  

warrior queen  

In another tale, a woman, known only as the Red Maiden, commanded a fleet of Norwegian sailing vessels that invaded Ireland and destroyed most of Ulster in the 10th century AD. Olga, another warrior queen and the first Russian Orthodox saint, was an early ruler of Kiev.

Women fought in Ireland's army until the church disallowed it in the 7th century. But it wasn't until the 17th century that Irish brides, the daughters of daughters of these early female vets, discontinued the fashion of including a knife in the waistband of their wedding costumes.

Tacitus relates that when, in the year 61 AD, the Romans invaded the Druid island of Mona, meaning "Moon," they were expelled by an army that included "women dressed in black, slashing swords and screeching like Furies."

At the same time, the ancient Celtic Queen Boudicca organized a general uprising by tens of thousands of men and women from several different early British tribes in a rebellion against the heavy-handed occupation forces of the Roman Empire. Boudicca's armies succeeded in capturing London, Colchester and St. Albans before the peasant insurrection was lost. The result of her efforts and subsequent death was, while not freedom, a more lenient Roman regime.   


The Chinese tell of a "Women's Kingdom," with a lavish and unapproachable capital that is located by a distant sea. As Ch'iu Chin, a Chinese poet from the 19th century puts it:

How many beautiful women have been heroines?
There were the noble and famous women generals
Ch'in Liang-yü and Shen Yün-yin.
Though tears stained their dresses
Their hearts were full of blood.
The wild strokes of their swords
Whistled like dragons and sobbed with pain.   

Sir Walter Raleigh, described the culture and customs of a group of alleged Amazons discovered in 16th century Guyana. These female fighters purportedly spent, just as their mythical foremothers had, a moon-long period every year in festivals of wine-soaked revelry and ribaldry, mating with the chosen few men allowed entrance to their compound.  

Africa has quite an Amazon tradition. In the 8th century AD, Arab explorers came upon the great and sophisticated civilization of ancient Ghana flourishing south of the Sahara. This huge area of west and central Africa was ruled by a dynasty of queens until the middle of the 11th century when Islam was introduced to the seven allied Hausa states,

Some 700 years later, another queen, Amina of Hausaland, emerged as the greatest ruler ever. During her 37-year rulefrom 1536 to 1573, she created an extensive empire, founded cities and led fierce armies of 20,000 horse soldiers into battle. Her exploits are still celebrated in popular song.

In 1900, the 50 year-old Queen Nana (Queen Mother) Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti Empire (now part of Ghana), led an army of women and men against the British in a last ditch attempt to rout them from their lands. She raised her troops by exhorting, "... Is it true that the bravery of the Asante is no more? I cannot believe it... if you the men of Asante will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields."

Probably the most famous woman in African history is Queen Nzinga Mbande who ruled Angola for 30-some years in the mid 1600s. In 1621, she negotiated with the Portuguese for the preservation of Angolan independence while seated on the back of a kneeling servant, as the colonialists had not provided a chair for her.

Years later, Nzinga refused to return runaway slaves to the Portuguese, thus bringing down their colonial wrath. Nzinga, with her females officers, negotiated tribal alliances and formed a vast army which, in true guerrilla fashion, harassed the Portuguese to exhaustion from all sides while avoiding direct confrontation.

I am Queen Nzinga.
I am Queen Amina.
I am Harriet Tubman.
I am Mbuya Nehanda.
And Behold! I've been pushed!
Down! To the ground!
With only my bare hands
To use as a cup.
But I have fought many wars,
Plus untold battles,

- Nilene O,A. Foxworth, 20th century American poet

It is time to take on the warrior woman persona. Time to become sturdy and centered, peaceful, resourceful rainbow warriors who can and will face a challenge and attend to what needs to be done. Time to strengthen and train our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.  


May we steel ourselves to our task. Set our sights straight. Take aim. Take loving action. Turn ourselves into true Amazons - the faithfully devoted and fiercely protective adoring daughters of Mother Earth, Mama Moon.

If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
these together ought to be able to turn it
rightside up again.   

- Harriet Tubman

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