Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily On the Disappearance of the Goddess Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein Dr. Leonard Shlain, a vascular surgeon who operates on arteries that supply blood to either side of the brain, has written a book called The Alphabet Versus the Goddess (New York: Viking Putnam, 1998) in which he suggests that civilization and all its left-brained pursuits were in fact a result of alphabet literacy because of the stimulation of the left brain hemisphere. Shlain views the “blessings” of civilization as mixed. He argues that the invention of the alphabet changed which half of the human brain was dominant. He says that before simple alphabets were invented, images and pictograms were the principal means of communication, which stimulate the right brain.  After the invention of alphabets, the imaging approach gave way to linear sequencing.  Hence, comprehension, instead of happening in the right brain (which is imagistic), began happening in the left brain (which is linear). He uses left and right brain dominance to explain what he refers to as the “hunter-killer” course of human history and argues that goddess worship began to disappear from the ancient Western world at about the same time alphabets were invented 5,000 years ago. As alphabets, writing, and literacy evolved, the shift to use of the left brain reinforced so-called “masculine values,” and the partnership societies of earlier cultures came to an end, overcome by masculine dominant societies.  Patriarchal societies, in which the role of women is undervalued and even debased, and in which women are dominated by men, became the norm in all historic cultures. Dominator cultures have conquered the planet, brought us science, medicine, microwaves, and to the threshold of space travel.  But they have also brought us overpopulation, the threat of nuclear disaster, almost irreversible air and water pollution, and the possibility that we’ll run out of oxygen if we keep destroying the rainforests and the oceanic algae that produce it. (And I and many of my best friends are unfortunately addicted to oxygen). Shlain gives as an example of one of the earliest myths that outline this destruction of respect for the feminine (and hence for women, the biological carriers of life, and for the earth itself, the great mother from which all life springs)—the Babylonian myth in which the hero Marduk kills and mutilates the goddess Tiamat. Shlain says when pure alphabets appeared—and he argues the first was invented by the Hebrews—the shift to a patriarchal society was complete.  New monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) revered a Father figure, made women evil (Eve, the first mother, became the source of all our woe), and the serpent, formerly revered as sacred to the Great Mother Goddess as a symbol of the life force, was demoted along with women to a subjugated status.  Further, Western religions asserted that God is revealed by His words, and sanctified in written form.  Hence, images were forbidden (they stimulate the right brain) by the Hebrews, and later by the Muslims as a result of the second commandment. Conceiving of a deity with no image prepares for the thought processes that lead to law codes, abstract philosophy, and science.  But every leap forward into general literacy has also been accompanied by random destruction, mutilation, or other concomitant loss of art, the repression of sexuality, and the domination of women in the society. Shlain further notes that in modern times, as we have begun using media that is more imagistic, such as photography, movies, and video, our right brains have begun to be more active once again.  He suggests this may have been an impetus for the women’s liberation movement in our century, and he looks forward to a more balanced society as we progress into the new millennium, led by further stimulation through imagery of the right brain hemisphere. In any case, it behooves us to take at least a tentative look at some of the aspects of dominator cultures as we make our way through the course, and to think creatively about ways in which we can continue moving in the direction we’ve started toward a more balanced, partnership culture in our own timeframe.