“Only women can communicate with the gods”

October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

BBC Image: Mathelenei Makhaulele, Woman of Power in the Venda community

BBC Image: Mathelenei Makhaulele, Woman of Power in the Venda community

 Only women can effectively communicate with the gods – so men are not allowed to speak during the ceremony. This is the view of the Venda people in South Africa, where “women of power” perform ancestral rituals for the good of the tribe.

Incidently, I rather like the title Woman of Power. I might use it as my email sign-off from now on.

But on a more relevant note – this led me to consider how different faiths or communities place women in the central position of power. In Western societies where women still earn around 16% less on average than men, male business leaders dominate the top global companies, with only one female British prime minister historically – and still no women as US Presidents – the international decision-making rests with men. (Although, this is a rather quirky page here from the BBC talking to eleven world leaders about how they achieved their positions of power, in case I appear to generalise too much..)

But other communities rate women rather more highly. After all, overlooking that minx Eve, Mother Nature as a concept places a female identity on the whole of nature, the life-giving force. And if we roll back into Greek and Roman mythology, there are numerous examples of strong goddesses in what we are consider “male” roles in today’s patriarchal socirty.  In Roman mythology Diana is goddess of war, while her twin brother Apollo floats around with a lyre. Juno, Queen of the Gods, had responsibility for the Empire’s finances, and don’t forget of course the Muses, those women with power over all of arts and sciences.

In Hinduism the goddess Saraswati is a symbol of knowledge, and Chinese and Japanese history is littered with patron goddesses and legendary women who fought off oppressors, led armies and incited revolts. And now female soldiers aren’t even allowed to go to the front line.

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