Modern Matriarchal Studies

Helheta / Gunilla Madegård Website/blog


R O B E R T   B R I F F A U L T   1874 - 1948



IN or OUT makes it all!


Heide Göttner Abendroth states in her educational work Matriarchal Societies; Studies on Indigenous Cultures across the Globe that  theories about the origin of human society abound in anthropology and elsewhere, and that two classic positions offer diametrically opposed answers to the question; whether it was  men´s - or women´s social instincts that gave rise to society.


Robert Briffault took the stance that it was the women´s and was therefore, in good company with other contemporary scholars in closely related branch as for example Robert Graves, sir Arthur Evans, et al driven out in the cold.


SOME ARE IN AND SOME ARE OUT - according to the laws of BINARY OPPOSITIONS  (Claude Levi-Strauss findings about the laws of thinking  constituting the Origin of Society )


IN: established academics getting payed for their work and entitled as ”professionals”


OUT: freelancing scholars financing their research themselves, entitled as ”amateurs”


And as of a shere coincident the dividing line between them both happens to be the acceptance of integrating matriarchal studies in the field of research of anthropology and archeology, or not.


Robert Briffault and Claude Lévi-Strauss was, to great extent, the same kind of rootless cosmopolitans and intellectuals, the ideas of the latter  dominating the anthropology during the last half of the past century, both of them famous writers of prose as well as of scientific issues, critical of the Western civilisation which by then seemed highly threatened by the WWI as well as WWII and its devastating consequences. It is interesting, though, to compare the way their work has been recieved by the established academics as well as media, as its so strikingly reveals the evasive tendencies to further male stream capitalist ideology instead of science rigor, as well as the complete lack of a critical science journalism watch.



Soon after Briffault has made his caréer with his exeptionally extended work the three volume The Mothers 1927, and as a novelist with Europa, 1935  and Europa in Limbo 1937 and his passing away 1948,  he was totally eclipsed by the guru-like radiancy that hold sway over Lévi-Strauss. Although Briffault´s life and work are no less interesting or scientifically relevant than Lévi-Strauss´, quite the contrary so, he instead was omitted from history; his contribution to science being erased from the scholarly reference lists, as well as from Encyclopaedia Britannica - a fate that he shares with the greatest archaeogist of the 20th century, namely Marija Gimbutas.


As Heide Göttner-Abendroth states in her Matriarchal Studies is this nothing to be wondered about, as its the fate, wich strikes all of those who don´t want to compromise their scientific rigour for to subdue to the dogmas prescribed by the male stream club. And if there was something that distinguished Briffault from Lévi-Strauss, it was definitely not the proneness to subdue to the establishment just to get access to a place within, ending up with the former being entitled as an ”amateur” although he was no less professional than the greatly tributed professor and guru of ”structuralism” Lévi-Strauss, and having to earn his living on writing  novels for the broad publicum.


This is how Robert Briffaulst most famous work  The Mothers, the Matriarchal Theory of Social Origin 1927 begins;


Quoting the preface to the first volume of 700 pages:


"The enquieries with which these studies deal arose out of a simple enough question of psychology. I had proposed to draw up a list of the forms of the social instincts and to investigate their origin. I had not proceeded far before I discovered, to my surprise, that the social crackers of the humann mind are, one and all, traceable to the operation of instincts that are related to the functions of the female and not to chose of the male. That the mind of women should have exercised so fundamental an influence upon human development in the condition of historical patriarchal societies is inconceivable. I was thus led to reconsider the early development of human society, of its fundamental institutions and traditions in the light of the matriarchal theory of social evolution. That theory has of late years suffered a good deal of academic vilification; but it must be admitted that criticisms of it have been distinguished by scathing vivacity, rather by clarity of reasoning or convincing evidence."


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"To the evolutionist who go beyond anthropological speculation is to be found in the animal world, it cannot but appear notable that no trace of patriarchal organisation is to be found in the animal world. The animal family out of which the human social group must be supposed to have arisen, is matriarchal. The extended significance imparted by this and other considerations to the view suggested by certain features of archaic and primitive societies involved a reconsideration of the problems of social anthropology. These have been almost exclusively discussed in terms of the instincts and the interests of male. It remains to be seen whether, by taking into reconsideration also the very different mental characters and interests of women, more satisfactory interpretations are afforded.


Social anthropology being the history of social tradition, deals to a large extent with the origin of prejudices. It is hence inevitable that it should either be swayed and vitiated by these, or come into conflict wit them. Almost all the questions with which its concerned are att present time, controversial. I detest controversy. Every conclusion to be adequately set forth, is, however under necessity of taking account of those with which its is at variance. No study is better calculated than that of social anthropology to inculcate tolerance towards the imbecilities of human mind. Disingenuousness of method, while it calls for exposure does not merit comment."


No doubt that this was a huge slap in the face of those in the men´s club  who had worked so hard to act as if the elephant in the room did´t exist and work out the one more farfetched declaration and system after the other to make it disappear or at least to seem invisible.


And the punishment became harsh, excerted by the same standard mastering techniques as were directed against Marija Gimbutas et. al in the end of the 20th century: derision, diminishing and expulsion, (Scroll down for to read at the derogatory review in American Anthropology!)


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Rober Briffault writing on The Mothers, under somewhat strained circumstances:


"The present work would have been improved by having been composed under more favourable conditions. It has been my lot to write books in situations fantastically unsuitable: one for the most past in the trenches, another from beginning to the end in a ship´s cabin. Circumstances scarcely less unpropitious to the production of a work calling for some small measure of research and erudition have attended my task in this instance. It has been completed amid great suffering. The flight that began with still youthful buoyancy has been brought to a conclusion on broken wings. This things I mention not in extenuation, but in explanation of shortcomings which cannot be more perceptible to the critic than they are to the author."


The year after publication of The Mothers he started a new writing project and was then promoted by the founder of WOWO; Helena Askenazy from Austria, who offered him to stay in her summerhouse for that purpose.


This are the great difference  between those who are in the club or out:


The patriarchalists stay inside and are therefore titled as  "professionals"  and get played for their work, whilst the s.c. "matriarchalists" are kept outside and reported of as "amateurs" and has to finance their research  themselves.


To be a patriarchalist is regarded to represent scientific objectivity.

To be a "matriarchalist" is to commit academic suicide.



Quoting Wikipedia:


As the the son of a French diplomat, Charles Frédéric Briffault; he already had seen a lot of the world during his upbringing. He later cited his year of birth as 1876, likely to be young enough to enter the army in the First World War.


After the death of his father in 1887, Briffault and his mother moved to New Zealand. Briffault received his MB and ChB from the University of Dunedin in New Zealand and commenced medical practice. (So even there he had the opportunity of getting a glimpse of a totally different world and lifestyle, my comment)


After service on the Western Front during the war, (where he was twice awarded the Military Cross) he settled in England, where he turned to the study of sociology and anthropology. He also lived for some time in the USA, and later Paris.


Briffault debated the institution of marriage with Bronisław Malinowski in the 1930s and corresponded with Bertrand Russell.


He died in Hastings, Sussex, England on 11 December 1948.
His first wife (m. 1896) was Anna Clarke, with whom he had three children. After her death in 1919, he married Herma Hoyt (1898-1981), an American writer and translator.




Briffault is known for what is called Briffault's Law:


The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.


— Robert Briffault, The Mothers, Vol. I, p. 191


In following, there are 3 corollaries:


Past benefit provided by the male does not provide for continued or future association.


Any agreement where the male provides a current benefit in return for a promise of future association is null and void as soon as the male has provided the benefit.


A promise of future benefit has limited influence on current/future association, with the influence inversely proportionate to the length of time until the benefit will be given and directly proportionate to the degree to which the female trusts the male.




THE intellectual revolution of the nineteenth century has transformed our conceptions of human history in much the same manner as the intellectual revolution of the seventeenth century changed our view of the cosmic universe. Like the Ptolemaic world our notions concerning the career of our race were miserably stunted, dingy, and mean.


The date 4004 B.C. was gravely accepted as the boundary of our retrospect; and long before reaching back to it the conventional fable of history which, like the primitive epic whence it evolved, was chiefly concerned with racial, dynastic, and religious edification, faded into pure legend and mythology. As when awakening science crashed through the tinsel vaults of puerile cosmologies, discovering the sun-strewn infinities amid which speeds our quivering earth-speck, so have the mists of legend lifted before her radiant progress, and it is given us to view the panorama of mans long and wonderful career in something of its natural perspective and proportion.



In 1930, H. L. Mencken wrote the following in his Treatise on the Gods:

"Primitive society, like many savage societies of our own time, was probably strictly matriarchal. The mother was the head of the family.


...What masculine authority there was resided in the mother's brother. He was the man of the family, and to him the children yielded respect and obedience. Their father, at best, was simply a pleasant friend who fed them and played with them; at worst, he was an indecent loafer who sponged on the mother. They belonged, not to his family, but to their mother's. As they grew up they joined their uncle's group of hunters, not their father's. This matriarchal organization of the primitive tribe, though it finds obvious evidential support in the habits of higher animals, has been questioned by many anthropologists, but of late one of them, Briffault, demonstrated its high probability in three immense volumes [The Mothers: A Study of the Origins of Sentiments and Institutions].


It is hard to escape the cogency of his arguments, for they are based upon an almost overwhelming accumulation of facts. They not only show that, in what we may plausibly assume about the institutions of early man and in what we know positively about the institutions of savages today, the concepts inseparable from a matriarchate color every custom and every idea: they show also that those primeval concepts still condition our own ways of thinking and doing things, so that "the societal characters of the human mind" all seem to go back "to the functions of the female and not to those of the male.


Thus it appears that man, in his remote infancy, was by no means the lord of creation that he has since become."



Vol I: The Mothers; The Study of the Origin of Sentiments and Institutions in three volumes 1927


Vol II: "Group-Marriage and Sex Communism." In V. F. Calverton, ed., The Making of Man, The Modern Library, 1931.


Vol III "The Origin of Love." In V. F. Calverton, ed., The Making of Man, The Modern Library, 1931.



Its enormous length - about 1 1/2 million words when the extensive footnotes and the vast bibliography are reckoned in - and its consequent relatively high price have prevented more than a very few people from studying it, for few libraries hold it in stock.


Parts of it is published on the net as for example this one:


Briffault´s  publication The Mothers 1927 was revised in


as follows:

"In 1920 Professor Lowie stated in his book, Primitive Society, that there was not a single theoretical problem on which modern anthro- pologists are so thoroughly in accord as that concerning the former and present non-existence of a “matriarchate.” If this statement holds true, and I have no doubt that it does, then the present three volumes of Mr. Briffault do not tend to place him in the ranks of modern anthropologists. Mr. Briffault, in a manner similar to that of his precursors, came upon the idea of a former matriarchate as a convenient tool on which to hinge the idea of social evolution. The concept was, of course, assumed not only a priori, but even in contradiction to all known ethnographic facts. The author, in the quiet of his study, modestly proposed “to draw up a list of the forms of the social instincts, and to investigate their origin.” Having progressed in his investigation to this extent, he discovered, to his surprise, that the social characters of the human mind are, one and all, traceable to the operation of instincts that are related to the functions of the female and not to those of the male.


Hence the necessity of a primordial matriarchate. In spite of the somewhat peculiar premises upon which the present work rests, the contents arc often of interest and value. Mr. Briffault brings even more erudition to his subject than did Westermarck. He broaches topics which are important and somewhat new to anthropology, such as the evolution of our present relations between the sexes. From the point of readability the work is marred by the inexhaustible list of examples, from the point of science by innumerable dogmatic generalizations. The third volume, which deals mainly with the social conditions and literature of medieval Europe, is by far the best of the three.



In the first volume Briffault draws a distinction between sex instinct and love, or the tender emotions. He traces these reactions to the animal world, and shows that the sentiments of tenderness and affection between the sexes are not originally connected with the sexual impulse, but with an entirely different instinct, the mating instinct. The operation of the sexual impulse does not demand any- thing beyond the performance of the sexual act, while mating, or an association between the sexes, is a special adaptation to the re- productive functions of the female. This is due to the fact that with the extension of maternal care the female is placed in a position of disadvantage as regards self-protection and the procuring of food. In the course of biological evolution, therefore, the feelings of tender- ness and affection, of which the offspring is the primary direct object, become extended to the male. On the other hand, sexual attraction, or sexual huilger, as it has been

aptly called, is a form of voracity. “For love is sadic,and as cruel as hunger.” It would be more accurate, according to Briffault, to speak of the sexual impulse as pervading nature with a yell of cruelty than with a hymn of love.


Therefore love and lust must remain antagonistic among human beings. They are not only opposed, but essentially incompatihle. They may alternate, but can never completely blend. Love, tender feeling, is a common cause of ‘psychical’ impotence.


The importance of this distinction is obvious in primitive marriage, for in primitive society sexual relations do not imply sexual association and the motives which lead primitive man to marriage are unconnected with the sexual impulse. Mr. Briffault furthermore believes that the primitive man has no feelings of tenderness or affection towards his wife.

The distinction is, however, of the greatest importance in the formation of social groups. For, just as the transferred affection of the female for the male is a direct derivative of maternal love, so likewise all feelings of a tender, compassionate, altruistic character, which are in direct contrast to primitive biological impulses, and, while almost entirely absent in animals have become distinctive of human psychology, are extensions and transformations of the maternal instinct and are directly derived from it. All tender feelings, and altruism in the male, must havc arisen through maternal love, and through the transference of these instincts to the male. Therefore these sentiments and social virtues which are necessary to the existence of any form of human society have their original root in the feeling which characterizcs the relation between mother and offspring.


Hence the dedication of these three volumes to The Mothers, the source from whom these blessings flow.


This same year we have had released another system of sociology from the pens of Keller and Sumner. Both systems deny the gregarious instinct as a factor in the formation of social groups. Briffault only admits of mother love as a molder of social groups, while Keller and Sumner advocate sexual love, vanity, hunger and fear as being the primary socializing forces. So the layman must take his choice.

If all of our socializing forces have arisen from maternal love, it is only natural that they should have first arisen when society was in the form of a matriarchate. And what cannot be found must be invented. So the matriarchate was “that peculiar arrangement adopted by nascent humanity.,’ If now we agree with Briffault that nascent humanity existed in the form of a matriarchate, we need no longer be troubled by any of the other problems of anthropology, we may rest assured that our authors will have an explanation of them all. Exogamy arose because the males marry later than females, so that it was only natural for males to go and seek mates in other groups, and the females to remain at home. Without troubling ourselves as to the modern accepted meaning of the word “exogamy” we can then turn to the author’s explanation of the origin of the taboo against incest. In a matriarchal group if the men were the sexual mates as well as the brothers of the women, patriarchal succession would be established, and their authority and rivalry would bring about patriarchal dominance.



The mother-in-law taboo arose because the young males joining the new group regarded their new mother-in-law in the same manner as they did the mother of their own group. Secret societies were originally founded by women, and male societies arose, as Heinrich Schurtz would not have expressed it, a weak and pale imitation of the women’s original magical societies. Most of the taboos of primitive peoples were first enforced by women. For the women, when they were not in the proper condition to receive males, isolated themselves of their own accord, and forbade the men to approach them. Here again the author must be dealing with that period of “nascent humanity” concerning which he appears quite well informed. At any rate, he considers the taboos placed on men by women during their periodic unfitness as the earliest taboos imposed on the natural instincts, and embodied in human traditions.


Early in the first volume Mr. Briffault stated the theory that cultural and social evolution is the all-important factor in the development of the love sentiment in man; that romantic love is profoundly influenced by literature and tradition, and that no one would he subject to it in the same form had he never read a novel or seen a play. Once Briffault is removed from the dangerous ground of actual anthropology he appears in a far better light. Certainly his treatment of “Romance” in the third volume is well worth reading. This subject called for a critical review of the romantic literature of the European Middle Ages, for it was out of the “romantic” literature of this period that the unique type of European “romani.ic” amatory sentiment developed.


Its of interest to note that the term “romance” was first applied to compositions made in the current speech of the people of France, who ever since the days of Roman domination had been proud to call themselves Roman citizens or Romans. Romantic literature means, therfore, the popular French literature of the early Middle Ages, as opposed to the learned literature. Already in the literatura of the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries the distinctive characteristics of the European conception of romantic love were manifested in full-blown perfection. But this love was of course outside of marriage. In the latter part of the thirteenth century the conception of chivalric, or “courtly” love, received its greatest development. But this was done, not in the romantic narratives, but in the form of lyric poetry in the hands of the troubadours.


The changes which occurred in the nature of love poetry in Europe are of interest, showing the remarkable influence which literature can exert over culture. Originally love poetry did not occupy an important place in the literature of pagan Europe. Love songs there, as among primitive people in general, were regarded in the light of magic spells by which the lover endeavored to bewitch the object of his desires. Among the northern people, to address a love song to a girl or woman was an indictable offense, and was often punished like any other form of witchcraft. In the second stage of lyric love literature, the sentiments expressed were frank, and to the point, but in good odor. In the third stage a reform was placed on the poetical conception of love; it was converted from the sensual to the chaste, or “romantic” (using our present and unique sense of the word). This remarkable alteration was brought about for the sole purpose of disarming the severity of the clergy.


The transformation in the conceptions of romantic love, the idealization of the relations between the sexes which is presented in the course of literary evolution, were not dictated by changes in public sentiment, but by the influence and by the pressure of the Christian Church. It was imposed upon popular literature by the Patristic conceptions, which pronounced the extinction of the huinan race to be preferable to its reproduction by sexual intercourse. The sentimental idealization of the sex relation has thus assumed a character which is without equivalent in any other culture, and was unknown in the cradle of European civilization in the Hellenic world. In the light of it, under the rubrics of love, courtship, and marriage, the modern anthropologist elucidates the psychological and sociological phenomena presented by primitive man and woman, by the savage and the barbarian.


In looking at Briffault’s work as a whole, it seems strange that a writer who was able to trace the interplay between culture and transmitted ideas so clearly in European civilization, should have failed so utterly to grasp the rudiments of scientific principles in dealing with primitive cultures. In explanation it must first be observed that Briffault entered his study of European culture without preconceived ideas; in describing the development of the concept of romantic love, of the influence of art on human conduct, and of human conduct on art, he merely interpreted documentary history. In these chapters the “Mothers” and the mythological “Matriarchate” were for the moment disregarded. Secondly, it seems likely that a different kind of understanding, a different art or technique, is required for the dealing with primitive culture than that gained by the ordinary student in his library research.


While it is true that the difference between the primitive and the civilized culture is quantitative rather than qualitative, yet there is a definite dividing line; the use of writing and the storing up of individual ideas and opinions. This distinction brings about a definite, although again quantitative, change of attitude between the individual and his community. In primitive society the individual is born into a one- dimensional mode of conduct and mode of thinking, that prescribed by his group. His worth is estimated by his conformity. In civilized society the individual is again under pressure to conform, but he has resource to a second dimension, that of the inherited arts and sciences. His ultimate worth is judged by the value of his contribution to these. Here it is variation and not conformity that counts. The student, therefore, who studies civilized societies must begin by the study of this second dimension. He first gains an impression of the customs and ideals of a civilized community by catching their reflection as set down in the writings of its greatest men, that is to say, variants from the norm. Then, if he is able, he can check up on the actual life of the people, and discover the relation which the theoretical mode of conduct bears on the actual, the influence of the ideal on the actual, and the actual on the ideal.


In a primitive society, on the other hand, theory and practice tend to combine. There is no ideal set of customs or manner of thought with which the people are endeavoring to catch up. On the contrary, their chief endeavor is to preserve the ancient, the ways of the dead ancestors. Literature, art, and modes of conduct are all judged on the same standard, their conformity to set pattern. Changes do occur, but these are due to diffusion from without, not, as a rule, to inspiration from within the group. Hence the student in his study of a primitive society should first endeavor to catch the meaning of its culture as a whole. Then each isolated custom, each myth, each symbol of art, will fall into its compartment in the cultural entity.


It is perhaps because Mr. Briffault has never understood the significance of the psychology of one primitive group, that he has failed to organize one acceptable theory to cover all primitive groups.


The chief theory advanced, and that on which most of the others hinge, is that mother love developed into male altruism, and this in turn made man adapted to live in social groupings.


Yet I should be very much surprised if one could translate the word “altruism” into any primitve language. Primitive man is devoted to the interests of his group for quite self-interested reasons, his devotion is quite as automatic and subconscious as is his hatred of outsiders.