Zeus gives birth to Athena through his head.

We deconstruct necrophilia in Western culture by exposing how it valorizes death and perverts the dignity of life. 

Male appropriation of birthing was a way of erasing the matriculture that existed prior to Western patriarchy.  In the Olympian myths, Zeus swallows pregnant Metis, mother of Athena, and later gives birth to Athena from his head. Zeus’ matricide in the Olympian myths over-writes an earlier matricultural mythology (Cavarero, 1990, p.108). The male appropriation of birthing is linked to male desire to become divine by claiming the ability to create life (Jantzen, 1999, 141; Daly, 1978, p.65).  The Abrahamic religions disavow the mother and establish a jealous male god in the sky who creates the world with his logos, not by gestation.

Francis Bacon argued that nature’s womb harboured secrets that could be wrested from her using technology.  Modern medicine executed Bacon’s science by taking over the work of midwives and medicalizing women’s reproductive functions from conception to parturition.  Cultural knowledge embedded in birthing myths and rituals fell into dis-use as Western medicine took control of birthing away from mothers. Birthing became technologically-oriented and detached from natural phenomena.  Many women lost their awareness of natural regeneration cycles and birthing processes, acquiring a type of nature blindness (Haarmann, 2007, 259).  Necrophilic perversion is indicated when drugs are administered to reduce a mother’s consciousness of the birthing process, making her the abject object, not the active and conscious subject of birthing. Necrophilic matricide is condoned whenever the obscenity motherf-r elicits no outrage.

Adriana Cavarero asserts that the lack of attention paid to the fact that we are born from woman has given western philosophy a preoccupation with death rather than birth.  Western philosophy juxtaposes life and death in a way that disavows culture’s dependence on women’s generative maternal force.  She critiques the academy which spurns the abundant “documented evidence of the existence of an original matriarchy” by claiming it “does not add up to the kind of proof accepted by every scholar” (p.5).  Cavarero investigates the “traces of the original act of erasure” contained in patriarchal records, exposing Zeus’ crime of matricide and interpreting that act as symbolic of patriarchy’s erasure of the Great Mother (p.7f). She emphasizes that cultural continuity depends on the maternal power to generate.  Continuity is assured only when the mother/daughter relationship is visible to human eyes. Nature flourishes only when females give birth to daughters. When the maternal no longer has power to generate, we approach “the threat of nothingness” (p.61).

It is ironical that the Canadian Métis culture carries the same name as Metis, Athena’s Titan mother who was swallowed by Zeus. Metis’ fate mirrors the fate of the aboriginal mothers whose identity was swallowed by colonialist fur traders who claimed the mothers’ children as their own by giving them Scottish and French surnames.  Indigenous women are reclaiming matriculture by decolonizing their bodies. Leanne Simpson links the material, the political and the spiritual when she declares that indigenous women are reclaiming their responsibility to serve their communities as carriers of culture (p.28):

If more of our babies were born into the hands of indigenous midwives using indigenous birthing knowledge, on our own land, surrounded by our support systems, and following our traditions and traditional teachings, more of our women would be empowered by the birth process and better able to assume their responsibilities as mothers and nation-builders (p.29).

Natality and matriculture are linked in the common value of mothering and birthing, not as an essentialist impulse, but as a cultural system embraced by both men and women for its contribution to cultural continuity.  Indigenous cultures appear to be positioned to midwife the rebirth of matriculture, first in their own cultures and then in Western cultures. The Sedna myth integrates a core principle of indigeneity: living in balance and harmony with nature is impossible if the culture does not venerate generative power. Matriculture refers to cultural traditions that valorize natality, in its literal and metaphoric meanings, and elevate the maternal for its creative, spiritual, affective, educational and judicial contributions to cultural continuity.  Matriculture does not presume the subordination of men, but rather a partnership between the sexes, and the expected division of labour determined by gender (Passman, 1993, 85).

Link to mythology of Zeus’ matricide

By deconstructing necrophilia, we clear a space in-between paradigms to imagine a different future and to begin moving forward to that future paradigm which I call natality.

The full article on Deconstructing Necrophilia will be published in Canadian Woman Studies Journal (CWS/cf) Vol.31, #1 & 2 – a special issue on Women and Environmental Justice.

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