Modern Matriarchal Studies

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"Despite all the hostility directed against Modern Matriarchal Studies, it is not possible to disregard its findings. It presents us with a well balanced, egalitarian and basically peaceful society. It can exist without life destroying inventions like wars of conquest and the rule of dominance. This is why I am convinced that matriarchy is needed in the struggle for a humane world."

Dr. Heide Göttner-Abendroth

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The Association for the Study of
Women & Mythology:




At the 2012 ASWM National Conference, Heide Göttner-Abendroth of Germany received the first Saga Special Recognition Award in Women’s History. This award is named for Saga, the Norse goddess of history and prophecy. In giving the award for “tireless work to bring to light an alternate cultural narrative,” the ASWM board cited “Göttner-Abendroth’s lifelong passion…to research matriarchal societies and cultures, past and present. Her work has been a catalyst for international scholars and indigenous peoples to promote a new understanding of non-patriarchal modes of social organization.”


Göttner-Abendroth is the founder of Modern Matriarchal Studies and the International Academy Hagia for Matriarchal Studies and Matriarchal Spirituality in Bavaria. Her meticulous research demonstrates that matriarchies are egalitarian cultures based on gender equality and consensus decision-making.


In 2005, Heide was nominated as one of 1000 Peace Women Across the Globe for the Nobel Peace Prize.


D E V E L O P I N G   A   N E W   S C I E N C E 



By Dr. Heide Goettner-Abendroth


(published in The Gift, A Feminist Analysis
Athanor book, Meltemi editore, Roma 2004)


After I had completed my Ph.D. in philosphy at the University of Munich on the subject of the „Logic of Interpretation“, I taught philosophy and theory of science there from 1973-1983. Then I left university system, because I had found a much more important and socially relevant task. Ever since 1976, I had been doing pioneer work, along with my female colleagues, in founding Women`s Studies in West Germany, and in this context I presented an outline of my „theory of matriarchal societies“ for the first time. I had started to develop this theory as a young student of 25 years, using all the libraries of the different disciplines for my interdisciplinary research and traveling widely to visit many archaeological sites. These were my unofficial studies, in addition to the official ones in Analytical Philosophy, Theory of Science, and Formal Logic. It was in 1976 that I first presented it in public, and in 1980 my first book in this field was published (See: The Goddess and her Heros, in German 1980 / in English 1995). From 1983 on, I devoted myself completely to this task, one that was not acknowledged by any university in Germany. But another audience was very interested: my book marked the beginning of the discussion about women-centered societies and matriarchy in the New Feminist Movement in West Germany.


I was well aware that this discussion had a long tradition in German-speaking Europe (Switzerland, Austria, Germany), going back as far as the famous work of J.J. Bachofen: Myth, Religion and Mother Right, which came out in 1861. For more than a century, the discussion on „mother right“ and „matriarchy“ continued: this subject now was used and abused by all the intellectual schools of thought, and all political parties, each with their distinctly different point of view. What worried me most about this reception of Bachofen`s ideas was the complete lack of a clear definition of the matter at hand, and furthermore, the huge amount of emotion and ideology that was involved in the discussion. This combination of unclear definitions and excessive emotionality already occurs in Bachofen`s work itself.




Bachofen`s work is in the field of history of cultures, and it represents a perfect parallel to the work of H. L. Morgan (in the field of anthropology/ethnology), who did research in the matriarchal society of the Iroquois of his time (1851 and 1871But the works of these scholars have been evaluated very differently: the differences cast light on just how political the subject of „matriarchy“ is in the midst of our patriarchal society. Scholars of the humanities and social sciences, who should be extremely interested in Bachofen`s findings, ignored or ridiculed the majority of them. Morgan was praised and called „the father of ethnology“, because he founded the new science of anthropology/ethnology; meanwhile Bachofen, who also founded a new science: the „science of non-patriarchal societies“, or „matriarchy-logy“, was not honoured in the same way. The reason is simple: if his work had been taken seriously, it would have caused the beginning of the breakdown of patriarchal ideology and world view. It marks the beginning of the development of a new paradigm of human history. That is why it is too dangerous to be aknowledged adequately!


After these insights, I decided – building on the foundation of my philosophical tools – to give the matriarchal studies, i.e., the research into all forms of non-patriarchal societies in both past and present, a modern scientific foundation. I value this field of research as too important to be neglected in this respect; furthermore I am involved as a researcher myself. “To give it a modern scientific foundation” means to formulate a definition, that integrates its vast material, and to develop a supporting theoretical framework. In the light of a theoretical framework, the many excellent special studies, that have already been done in this field, would more clearly exhibit their mutual interconnections, and future research could be inspired and guided by it. Developing such a universal theory does not at all mean to lock it into a closed system (a traditional philosophical attitude that has become obsolete), but rather it means to give it an open structure that is clarifying and helpful for each specific piece of research, including my own.


When I started to work on this task, I first spent ten years developing a research methodology for matriarchy, one that is basically interdisciplinary and relies on criticism of ideology. One part of the task was to relate the different disciplines used in this research to each other, and to do this systematically (and not only arbitrarily, as is often done). Another part was to develop a special method of ideological criticism to investigate all the different aspects of patriarchal ideology, and not just reproduce them unconsciously anew. Step by step, I developed the framework of a “theory of matriarchy”; I would like to present it now in a short outline. Then I want to give a sketch of the structural definition of “matriarchal society”, which is the core of the “theory of matriarchy”. Both sketches are the result of 30 years of research in the field of matriarchal societies, developed through a long process of trial and error. They are in no way presupposed deductive axioms, although I am presenting them here in a concentrated, abstract way.





I want to begin with some notes concerning my use of the term „matriarchy“. In spite of the difficult connotations of this word, I call all non-patriarchal societies „matriarchal“ for several reasons:


1. The term „matriarchy“ is well known from the discussion that has gone on since 1861 (Bachofen), and it is by now a popular term.


2. Philosophical and scientific re-definitions mostly refer to well-known words and redefine them. After that, scholars can work with them, but they do not lose contact with the language of the people. In this process, the word often takes on a new, clearer and broader meaning even in the popular language; this is also influenced by the re-defining activities of scholars. In the case of the term „matriarchy“, this redefinition would be a great advantage, especially for women: reclaiming this term means to reclaim the knowledge about cultures that have been created bywomen.


3. It is my opinion that it may not always be helpful to create new scientific terms like matrifocal“, „matricentric“, „matristic“, „gylanic“, etc. Some of these terms, like „matrifocal“ and „gylanic“, are very artificial and have no connection to popular language. Others like „matricentric“ and „matristic“ are too weak, for they suggest that non-patriarchal societies have no more to them than just being centered around the mothers.

The result can be a somewhat reduced view of these societies – by the reseachers as well as the critics – a view that neglects the intricate network of relationships and the complex social networks that characterize these cultures.


4. We are not obliged to follow the current, male biased notion of the term „matriarchy“ as meaning „domination by the mothers“. The only reason to understand it in this way is that it sounds parallel to „patriarchy“.


The Greek word “arché” has a double meaning. It means “beginning” as well as “domination”.


Therefore, we can translate “matriarchy” accurately as “the mothers from the beginning”. “Patriarchy”, on the other hand, translates correctly as “domination of the fathers”.


5. To use the term “matriarchy” in its re-defined, clarified meaning is also of political relevance. It doesn‟t avoid the discussion with professional colleagues and the interested audience, which is urgently necessary. This might easily happen with the other terms, which have the tendency to conceal and to belittle. Researchers should not shy away from the provocative connotation of the term “matriarchy”, both because research in this field is so important and because only continued political provocation will bring about a change of mind.

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Following the argumentation of my main work “The Matriarchy”, which is in the process of being published in several consecutive volumes, I briefly want to present my theory of matriarchal society. It shows the scope of modern research in matriarchy. Important research, which already exists about the topic, has been, and will continue to be, included in this framework.


In the first step of developing this theory I give an overview of the previous research in matriarchy. Therein I follow the course the research has taken, using examples of the scientific as well as of the political discussion. What becomes obvious is the lack of a clear and complete definition of “matriarchy”. Furthermore, in this book I put the method of ideological criticism in correct terms. This method is necessary in this area of study, because most of the early and contemporary writings about the topic contain a massive amount of patriarchal ideology. (See: Das Matriarchat I. Geschichte seiner Erforschung, Kohlhammer 1988-1995)


In the second step of the development of this theory I therefore formulate the complete structural definition of “matriarchy”, a definition we urgently need. It specifies the necessary and adequate characteristics of this form of society. It is not formulated abstractly, but arrived at by investigating the immense amount of ethnological material.


The systematic step of my ethnological research becomes visible now. I have dedicated the past ten years to this research, because we cannot get a complete definition of “matriarchy” from cultural history alone. There we are only dealing with the remains and fragments of former societies. That is not sufficient for an overall picture.


It remains undisputed that these may well be very numerous fragments, and that they may well be extremely important; still they can give us only scattered information. Through historical research alone we cannot know how matriarchal people thought or felt, how they organized their social patterns or political events, that is: how their society was structured as a whole.


In order to gain this knowledge and – as a consequence thereof – to achieve a complete definition of “matriarchy”, we have to examine the still living examples of this form of society. Fortunately, they still exist on all continents except Europe.


I have considered these cultures in the second step of my theory, in which I present all of the world‟s extant matriarchal societies.


See: Das Matriarchat II,1. Stammesgesellschaften in Ostasien, Indonesien, Ozeanien, Kohlhammer 1991/1999,


and see: Das Matriarchat II,2. Stammesgesellschaften in Amerika, Indien, Afrika, Kohlhammer 2000


Or in English; Matriarchal Societies; INDIGENOUS ACROSS THE GLOBE



In the third step of the development of my theory I use the complete definition of “matriarchy”, which I have now extracted, as a scientific tool for a revision of the cultural history of humankind. This history is much longer than the four to five thousand years of patriarchal history. In its longest periods, non-patriarchal societies were developed, in which women created culture and embodied the integral center of society. Extant matriarchal societies are the last examples.


Fortunately, in this field some excellent research is already available. It has been developed recently. What is still lacking, however, is the systematic framework of connection, that is, the overall picture of the long history of matriarchy.


(Project: Das Matriarchat III. Historische Stadtkulturen, in the process of development)


It is obvious that such an immense task is impossible without a complete definition of “matriarchy”. After it has been formulated in the ethnological part of my theory, we now have, for the very first time, the chance to adequately write the complete history of humankind, and to do so without the distortions of patriarchal prejudices. This new interpretation of history is urgently necessary today, because the patriarchal interpretation of history more and more turns out to be wrong and out-dated.


In the fourth step of the development of this theory I write about the problem of the rise of patriarchy. Two important questions have to be answered:


1. How could patriarchal patterns develop in the first place?


2. How could they spread all over the world? The latter is by no means obvious.


In my opinion neither question has been sufficiently answered yet. Instead, a lot of pseudo- explanations have been offered. If we want to explain the development of patriarchy we first of all need clear knowledge about the form of society which existed previously – and that was matriarchy. At present, this knowledge is in the process of being developed. It is the absolute precondition for explaining the development of patriarchy. Otherwise, we begin with false assumptions.


Secondly, a theory about the development of patriarchy has to explain why patriarchal patterns emerged in different places, on different continents, at different times and under different conditions. The answers will be very different for the different regions of the world. This task has not yet been done at all. (Project: Das Matriarchat IV. Entstehung des Patriarchats, in the process of development).


In the fifth step of the development of this theory, I write about the analysis and history of patriarchy. Until now, the history of patriarchy has been written down as a history of domination, as a history “from the top”. But there also exists the perspective of the history “at the bottom” which shows a completely different picture. It is the history of women, of the lower classes, of the marginalized and the sub-cultures. It shows that patriarchy did not succeed in destroying the ancient and long matriarchal traditions on all continents. In the end, it parasitically lives on these traditions.


The task is to show that these traditions (oral traditions, customs, myths, rites folklore, etc.) have their roots in the preceding traditions, matriarchy. But we can recognize this only with the help of the complete definition of matriarchy. If we can manage to follow the traces backwards through the history of patriarchy and to connect them, this means nothing less than regaining our heritage.


(Project: Das Matriarchat V. Matriarchale Traditionen in patriarchalen Gesellschaften, in the process of development).



Matriarchies are not just a reversal of patriarchy, with women ruling over men – as the usual misinterpretation would have it. Matriarchies are mother-centered societies, they are based on maternal values: care-taking, nurturing, motherliness, which holds for everybody: for mothers and those who are not mothers, for women and men alike.


Matriarchal societies are consciously built upon these maternal values and motherly work, and this is why they are much more realistic than patriarchies. They are, on principle, need-oriented. Their precepts aim to meet everyone’s needs with the greatest benefit.


So, in matriarchies, mothering – which originates as a biological fact – is transformed into a cultural model.

This model is much more appropriate to the human condition than the way patriarchies conceptualise motherhood and use it to make women, and especially mothers, into slaves.






With matriarchal cultures, equality means more than just a levelling of differences. Natural differences between the genders and the generations are respected and honoured, but they never serve to create hierarchies, as is common in patriarchy. The different genders and generations have their own dignity, and through complementary areas of activity, they function in concert one other.


More precisely, matriarchies are societies with complementary equality, where great care is taken to provide a balance. This applies to the balance between genders, among generations, and between humans and nature. Maternal values as ethical principles pervade all areas of a matriarchal society. It creates an attitude of care-taking, nurturing, and peacemaking.


This can be observed on all levels of society: the economic level, the social level, the political level and the areas of their worldviews and faiths.




At the social level, matriarchal societies are based on the clan, and on the “symbolic order of the mother”. This also means maternal values as spiritual principles, one that humans take from nature. Mother Nature cares for all beings, however different they may be. The same applies to motherliness: a good mother cares for all her children, embracing their diversity.


This holds true for men as well. If a man in a matriarchal society desires to acquire status among his peers, or even become a representative of the clan to the outside word, then he must be like a “good mother”.
But in matriarchies, you don’t have to be a biological mother in order to be acknowledged as a woman, because matriarchies practice the common motherhood of a group of sisters. Each individual sister does not necessarily have to have children, but together they are all “mothers” of any children that any of them have. This motherhood is founded on the freedom of women to decide on their own about whether or not to have biological children.


This is possible because matriarchal people live together in large kinship groups, formed according to the principle of matrilineality. The clan’s name, and all social status and political titles, are passed on through the mother’s line. Such a matri-clan consists of at least three generations of women, along with their brothers, nephews and maternal uncles. In classic cases, the matri-clan lives in one big clan-house. This is called matrilocality. Their spouses or lovers stay only over-night, in a pattern called “visiting-marriage”. These principles of matrilineality and matrilocality put mothers at the center; in this way women guide their clans without ruling.


In order to achieve social cohesion among the clans of a village or city, complex marriage conventions have been developed that link them in mutually beneficial ways. The intended effect is that all inhabitants of a village or city are related to each other by birth or by marriage.


This shapes a society that sees itself as a big clan, where everybody is “mother” or “sister” or “brother” to everybody else.


Thus matriarchies can be defined at the social level as  non-hierarchical, horizontal societies of matrilineal kinship.






This social order based on motherhood includes far reaching consequences for the economical level: Matriarchal economy is a subsistence economy. There is no such thing as private property, and there are no territorial claims.


The people simply have usage rights on the soil they till, or the pastures their animals graze, for Mother Earth can not be owned or cut up in pieces. She gives the fruits of the fields and the young animals to all people. Parcels of land and a certain number of animals are given to each matri-clan, and are worked on communally.


Most importantly, women have the power of disposition over goods and clan houses, and especially over the sources of nourishment: fields, flocks and food. All the goods are put in the hands of the clan mother, the matriarch, and she, mother of all the clan members, distributes them equally among her children and grand-children. She is responsible for the sustenance and protection of all clan members.


In a matriarchal community, the clans enjoy perfect mutuality: every relative advantage, or disadvantage, in terms of acquiring goods is mediated by social guidelines. For example, at the seasonal festivals of the agricultural year, clans that are comparatively better off will invite all the inhabitants to be their guests. The members of such a clan organize the banquet, the rituals, and the music and dances of one of the annual festivals – and then give away their goods as a gift to all their neighbours


By doing this, they gain nothing except honor. At the next festival in the cycle, another lucky clan will step up, outdoing itself by inviting everybody in the village or neighbourhood, entertaining them all, and dispensing presents.


Since this is the general attitude, matriarchal economy can be called a “gift economy”.  It is the economic manifestation of maternal values, which prevents development of an exchange economy and instead fully achieves a gift economy.


Due to these features, matriarchies can be defined at the economical level as societies of balanced economic reciprocity, based on the circulation of gifts.



The patterns of the political level follow the principle of consensus, which means unanimity regarding each decision. To manifest a principle like this in practice, a society must be specifically organized to do so, and matrilinear kinship lines are, once again, the starting point.
The basis of each decision-making is the individual clan house. Matters that concern the clan house are decided upon by the women and men in a consensus process, of which the matriarch is the facilitator.


Each person has only one vote – even the matriarch – and no member of the household is excluded.
The same applies to decisions concerning the whole village. The clan delegates meet together in the village council, but do not make decisions themselves; they simply communicate the decisions that have been made in their clan houses, and move back and forth, until a consensus decision is reached by the whole village. The same applies at the regional level. The delegates move between the local council and the regional council until consensus of all the villages is reached.


The origin of all politics is in the clan houses, where the people live, and in this way, a true “grass roots democracy” is put into practice.


The result of these practices is that matriarchies are egalitarian societies of consensus. This clearly shows how maternal values also permeate political practice.






But such a societal system as matriarchy could not function as a whole without a deep, supporting and all-permeating spiritual attitude.


At the spiritual and cultural level, matriarchal societies do not have hierarchic religions based on an omnipotent male God. In matriarchies, divinity is immanent, for the whole world is regarded as divine: as feminine divine.


This is evident in the widely held concept of the universe as the Great Goddess who brought forth everything by birth, and of the earth as the Great Mother who created everything living. And everyone, and everything, is endowed with divinity by virtue of being a child of the Great Mother Nature.

In such a culture, everything is spiritual. In their festivals, which follow the cycle of the seasons and the cycle of life, everything is celebrated. There is no separation between sacred and secular, so the everyday tasks also have ritual significance. In this sense matriarchal societies are sacred ones.

The entire societies are constructed in the image of the creative Mother Nature. This divine mother is reflected in every woman’s being, and in her abilities to create. Every social, economic and political action is informed by the principle of the world’s – and the universe’s – all-encompassing maternal attitude.


Therefore, on the spiritual level, matriarchies are sacred societies and cultures of the Divine Feminine or Goddess.




 Economic criteria: societies with self-supporting gardening or agriculture; land and house are property of the clan, no private property; women have the power of disposition over the source of nourishment; constant adjustment of the level of wealth by the circulation of the vital goods in form of gifts at festivals – societies of reciprocity.


 Social criteria: matriarchal clans, which are held together by matrilinearity and matrilocality; mutual marriage between two clans; visiting marriage with additional sexual freedom for both sexes; social fatherhood – non-hierarchical, horizontal societies of kinship.


 Political criteria: principle of consensus in the clan-house, on the level of the village, and on the regional level; delegates as bearers of communication, not as decision-takers; absence of classes and structures of domination – egalitarian societies of consensus.


 Cultural criteria: concrete belief in rebirth into the same clan; cult of ancestresses and ancestors; worship of Mother Earth and the Goddess of Cosmos; divinity of the entire world; absence of dualistic world view and morality; everything in life is part of the symbolic system – sacral societies as cultures of the Goddess.


English translation:

Solveig Göttner, Karen Smith




Bachofen, Johann, Jakob: Das Mutterrecht, Stuttgart 1861, English: Myth, Religion and Mother Right.


Göttner-Abendroth, Heide: The Goddess and her Heros, in German: Frauenoffensive, München 1980-1997, in English: Anthony Publishing Company, Stow MA 1995.


Göttner-Abendroth. Heide: Das Matriarchat I. Geschichte seiner Erforschung, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1988-1995.


Göttner-Abendroth, Heide: Das Matriarchat II,1. Stammesgesellschaften in Ostasien, Indonesien, Ozeanien, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1991/1999.


Göttner-Abendroth, Heide: Das Matriarchat II,2. Stammesgesellschaften in Amerika, Indien, Afrika, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2000.


Morgan, Henri Lewis: League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee or Iroquois, 1851 und 1871/1877, H.M.Lloyd, New York 1901.


Biographical Note


In 1986, Heide Göttner-Abendroth founded the INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY HAGIA for Modern Matriarchal Studies and Matriarchal Spirituality (situated in Western Germany), and since then she has served as the director.


Dr. Heide Göttner-Abendroth has also directed all these 




Conference on Matriarchal Politics, St. Gallen / Switzerland 2011


Information »


International Conference, Toronto 2009
A (M)otherworld is Possible: Two Feminist Visions
Matriarchal Studies
The Gift Economy »


The two World Congresses


At two World Congresses, modern Matriarchal Studies and their results were presented to a wider, international public.


The presentations at both Congresses on Matriarchal Studies demonstrate a new research area that has effectively become a socio-cultural science in its own right, and which now emerges as a new paradigm of human history and society.


2nd World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, San Marcos / USA 2005
Information and Photos


1st World Congress on Matriarchal Studies, Luxembourg 2003
Information and Photos