When Patriarchy Ascended

This temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion overlooking the Aegean Sea (about 70km south of Athens) is said to be the place where Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia in order that the winds would again blow and allow the Greek ships to sail to Troy.

There are many versions of this story (including the well known one that Agamemnon had offended Artemis by killing one of her deer in her sacred grove, who thus demanded the sacrifice). In any case, this tale marks the ascent of the patriarchal mentality: sacrificing the feminine in order to achieve conquest, success, and glory. And it still goes on today. I am not only referring to men versus women (Clytemnestra, Iphigenia’s mother, has Agamemnon drowned in his bath when he returns from Troy, causing their son Orestes to kill his mother in retribution), but to the sacrificing of sensitivity, vulnerability, and subjective experience by men and women in order to survive and achieve in a hyper-yang world.

I recently witnessed this culture in full swing at my daughter’s high school graduation. Speaker after speaker mouthed platitudes about “success,” “getting ahead,” “entrepreneurship,” and “leaders of the future.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of this, mind you, but what was missing? There was not a word about feeling, compassion, connectedness, and “nature” was conspicuous by its’ absence. One of the speeches even extolled “getting ahead in relationships,” how about “Getting a heart” first?

As this homily to patriarchy was droning on I began wondering about our own safety. Could some crazy gunman burst in and shoot up the graduation? Unlikely, but all too common: Why are people being murdered in schools more than anywhere else these days? If it were just about guns, it could happen equally, everywhere. And as pernicious as it is to be able to get a gun license more easily than an automobile license, I sill ask, why these schools? Could it be that our schools have become so toxic, so frustrating for so many, so divorced from any natural lived reality that some – who do not fit the model of super extrovert, active achiever – fall through the cracks and snap? After all, there are little to no classes in high schools about how to relate to others, nature, or about how to relate to yourself when you are not caught up on the whirligig of doing. Students sit in rows and are pounded into cookie cutter molds for standardized tests. No one knows what a tree is, no one learns to flow with breath, body, and mind, teachers ask “What do you think,” and not “What do you feel?”

Iphigenia is being sacrificed every day.

If Matriarchy was the culture of stasis, turning round and round without development, and Patriarchy, the culture of domination, control, ascend, conquer, and move on, the visit to this temple makes me wonder what new form can arise from these ashes? Can violence and retribution, blaming and complaining ever transform into synergy and creation?

Surely, at this “ecotone”, at this meeting point of land and sea, of past and future, of divinity and mortality, surely all the sorrows we have witnessed and heard of are ever present. And so are all the hopes in the youth of our hearts, surely a new way can arise, a feminine/masculine wiser, with greater compassion, no either/or, this or that, but a beautiful offering from all of our experience and all that we intuit from the divine space of unknowing.

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