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Tag Archives: women
Posted: August 19, 2016 at 4:16 am
Hits: 494589 Last Updated: 13 July 2016 Print Email
Twin Oaks is an intentional community in rural central Virginia, made up of around 90 adult members and 15 children. Since the community’s beginning in 1967, our way of life has reflected our values of cooperation, sharing, nonviolence, equality, and ecology. We welcome you toschedule a visit.
We do not have a group religion; our beliefs are diverse. We do not have a central leader; we govern ourselves by a form of democracy with responsibility shared among various managers, planners, and committees. We are self-supporting economically, and partly self-sufficient. We are income-sharing. Each member works 42 hours a week in the community’s business and domestic areas. Each member receives housing, food, healthcare, and personal spending money from the community.
Our hammocks and casual furniture business has generated most of our income in the past. Making tofu as of 2011 has become roughly equal in importance to hammocks. Indexing books and now seed growing are also significant sources of income. Still, less than half of our work goes into these income-producing activities; the balance goes into a variety of tasks that benefit our quality of lifeincluding milking cows, gardening, cooking, and childcare. Most people prefer doing a variety of work, rather than the same job day in, day out.
A number of us choose to be politically active in issues of peace, ecology, anti-racism, and feminism. Each summer we are hosts to a Women’s Gathering and a Communities Conference where we welcome both experienced communitarians, and seekers who are new to community living.
We give tours of Twin Oaks almost every Saturday afternoon from March through October, and on most alternating Saturdays from November through February. Read about the Saturday Tour here.
We offer a structured three week visit designed to give the visitor some general education and experience in living at Twin Oaks. Read about the Visitor Program here
Please do not drop in and expect to get a tour or be able to stay overnight. Tours and visits must always be pre-arranged, and to be a guest here, a member must agree to be your host before you arrive.
Twin Oaks Community 138 Twin Oaks Road # W Louisa, VA 23093 USA
540-894-5126 888-424-8838 Fax Email Us
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Posted: August 14, 2016 at 7:06 pm
This week, it is my honor to be in Seoul Korea as the keynote speaker at a meeting of the Korean Association of Anti-Aging Medicine. Yesterday, I visited my host who runs a longevity clinic in the center of the worlds capital of plastic surgery, Gang Nam, or the tony section south of the Han River where people travel from all over Asia to have their appearances altered, Gangnam style, if you will.
This is just my fourth trip to Korea. As a 10-year-old my parents enrolled me into a first grade class into a summer school session. My classmates must have thought me a gentle simpleton, like Lenny Small from Of Mice and Men, because I didnt speak any Korean and I certainly felt like a mentally-challenged giant among those 6-year-old peers of mine.
In college, I came to Seoul to attend a 12-week course in Korean language studies only to find that I was again the tallest kid in my class. I recall during the 1987 riots for democracy that I felt like one of the tallest people in the country at 510 and could easily see over the lines of student protesters and riot police that clashed frequently in front of Yonsei University.
But eight years ago, when I visited with my family and found that I was just above average height as the post-IMF boom economy of South Korea had brought access to growth drugs and more meat consumption for children. Height may confer competitive advantage so many elected to enhance it and there are countless men over six feet now.
Here is the proof that something related to nutrition and growth-enhancing supplement which are commonly used, are working:
The average height for men living in Seoul reached 173.9 centimeters in 2013, up 10.2 cm from 163.7 cm in 1965, according to data released by the Seoul Institute. Their average weight rose by 15.3 kilograms, from 54.3 kg to 69.6 kg.
This trip, I am most struck by the women. You may know that South Korea has the highest rate of plastic surgery in the world and as you walk the streets, it is exceedingly rare to see any woman who has NOT undergone alterations. Just take a look at the faces of Ms. Korea in recent years (yes, these are all different people):
It is quite eerie to look into the faces of Korean women and not recognize the phenotypes present when I was here in 1987. Those women of matched age simply cant be seen in a relatively affluent urban center.
So what happened? Transhumanism. People using technology to alter their humanity. In terms of game theory, you can talk platitudes of beauty being only skin deep but here it is de rigeure if you want to have self-respect and the acceptance of your culture.
There are a lot of Americans who misunderstand Korean plastic surgery as an attempt to look more Occidental. Others might overlay a moralistic sense and decry the dehumanizing nature of it. But the fact is that for South Korean women and many of the men now, there is no more consideration of the morality of body modification than there would be to wearing clothes or makeup.
Anthropologically speaking, from an emic perspecitive, to NOT have the alterations in Korea would be akin to not wearing makeup, not shaving your legs and armpits, and wearing tank tops and sweatpants around as a young American woman. It is done, but is it really approved of?
Mark Twain said, Modesty died when clothes were born. In Korea, genetically-dictated faces died when plastic surgery was born. Enjoy this gif of different Ms. Koreas and while you shake your head, dont for get that a lot of the statues of antiquity such as David and Aphrodite, look alike; different media, same idea
Think that beauty is only skin deep? Then you may remember this scene from The Eye of the Beholder, The Twilight Zone, which raises an interesting point, albeit one that refutes what we know about symmetry, the golden ratio, and human nature
Some would consider taking telomerase activators and potentially lengthening my lifespan as a form of transhuman modification. That is fair. Even if taking them becomes illegal tomorrow, I believe that my current median telomere length of 14,100 base pairs indicates that I could have added decades to my life expectancy even if I resume aging at the normal rate now.
Posted: July 31, 2016 at 5:50 am
TimeMagazine’s recent cover story “The Childfree Life” has generated a good deal of controversy and commentary. The photo that graces the cover of the edition pretty much sums up the argument: a young, fit couple lounge languidly on a beach and gaze up at the camera with blissful smilesand no child anywhere in sight.
What the editors want us to accept is that this scenario is not just increasingly a fact in our country, but that it is morally acceptable as well, a lifestyle choice that some people legitimately make. Whereas in one phase of the feminist movement, “having it all” meant that a woman should be able to both pursue a career and raise a family, now it apparently means a relationship and a career without the crushing encumbrance of annoying, expensive, and demanding children.
There is no question that childlessness is on the rise in theUnited States. Our birthrate is the lowest in recorded history, surpassing even the crash in reproduction that followed the economic crash of the 1930’s. We have not yet reached the drastic levels found in Europe (inItaly, for example, one in four women never give birth), but childlessness has risen in our country across all ethnic and racial groups, even those that have traditionally put a particular premium on large families.
What is behind this phenomenon? The article’s author spoke to a variety of women who had decided not to have children and found a number of different reasons for their decision. Some said that they simply never experienced the desire for children; others said that their careers were so satisfying to them that they couldn’t imagine taking on the responsibility of raising children; still others argued that in an era when bringing up a child costs upward of $250,000, they simply couldn’t afford to have even one baby; and the comedian Margaret Cho admitted, bluntly enough, “Babies scare me more than anything.” A researcher at the London School of Economics weighed in to say that there is a tight correlation between intelligence and childlessness: the smarter you are, it appears, the less likely you are to have children!
In accord with the tenor of our time, those who have opted out of the children game paint themselves, of course, as victims. They are persecuted, they say, by a culture that remains relentlessly baby-obsessed and, in the words of one of the interviewees, “oppressively family-centric.” Patricia O’Laughlin, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, specializes in helping women cope with the crushing expectations of a society that expects them to reproduce. As an act of resistance, many childless couples have banded together for mutual support. One such group in Nashville comes together for activities such as “zip-lining, canoeing, and a monthly dinner the foodie couple in the group organizes.” One of their members, Andrea Reynolds, was quoted as saying, “We can do anything we want, so why wouldn’t we?”
What particularly struck me in this article was that none of the people interviewed ever moved outside of the ambit of his or her private desire. Some people, it seems, are into children, and others aren’t, just as some people like baseball and others prefer football. No childless couple would insist that every couple remain childless, and they would expect the same tolerance to be accorded to them from the other side. But never, in these discussions, was reference made to values that present themselves in their sheer objectivity to the subject, values that make a demand on freedom. Rather, the individual will was consistently construed as sovereign and self-disposing.
And this represents a sea change in cultural orientation. Up until very recent times, the decision whether or not to have children would never have been simply “up to the individual.” Rather, the individual choice would have been situated in the context of a whole series of values that properly condition and shape the will: family, neighborhood, society, culture, the human race, nature, and ultimately, God. We can see this so clearly in the initiation rituals of primal peoples and in the formation of young people in practically every culture on the planet until the modern period. Having children was about carrying on the family name and tradition; it was about contributing to the strength and integrity of one’s society; it was about perpetuating the great adventure of the human race; it was a participation in the dynamisms of nature itself. And finally, it was about cooperating with God’s desire that life flourish: “And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:7).
None of this is meant to be crushing to the will, but liberating. When these great values present themselves to our freedom, we are drawn out beyond ourselves and integrated into great realities that expand us and make us more alive.
It is finally with relief and a burst of joy that we realize that our lives are not about us. Traditionally, having children was one of the primary means by which this shift in consciousness took place. That increasingly this liberation is forestalled and that people are finding themselves locked in the cold space of what they sovereignly choose, I find rather sad. Originally posted at Real Clear Religion. Used with author’s permission. (Image credit: TIME Magazine)
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Posted: July 10, 2016 at 5:53 pm
Feature Video now available The Genomic Landscape of Breast Cancer in Women of African Ancestry
On Tuesday, June 7, Olufunmilayo I. Olopade, M.D., F.A.C.P., presented The Genomic Landscape of Breast Cancer in Women of African Ancestry, the final lecture in the 2016 Genomics and Health Disparities Lecture Series. Dr. Olufunmilayo is director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. Read more | Watch the video
The NHGRI History of Genomics Program closed its six-part seminar series featuring Human Genome Project (HGP) participants who helped launch the HGP with the talk: The Genome is for Life, by David Bentley, D.Phil., on Thursday, May 26th. Dr. Bentley is vice president and chief scientist at Illumina Inc. His long-term research interest is the study of human sequence variation and its impact on health and disease. Read more about the series
In this issue of The Genomics Landscape, we feature the use of model organisms to explore the function of genes implicated in human disease. This month’s issue also highlights a recently completed webinar series to help professionals in the health insurance industry understand genetic testing, new funding for training in genomic medicine research, and NHGRI’s Genome Statute and Legislation Database. Read more
Cristina Kapusti, M.S., has been named chief of the Policy and Program Analysis Branch (PPAB) at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). In her new role, she will oversee policy activities and evaluation as well as program reporting and assessment to support institute priorities. PPAB is a part of the Division of Policy, Communications and Education (DPCE), whose mission is to promote the understanding and application of genomic knowledge to advance human health and society. Read more
Last Updated: July 7, 2016
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Posted: July 5, 2016 at 11:30 pm
The Genomics Landscape The Power of Model Organisms for Studying Rare Diseases In this issue of The Genomics Landscape, we feature the use of model organisms to explore the function of genes implicated in human disease. This month’s issue also highlights a recently completed webinar series to help professionals in the health insurance industry understand genetic testing, new funding for training in genomic medicine research, and NHGRI’s Genome Statute and Legislation Database. Read more New training grants prime doctors to tackle genomic medicine The practice of medicine is expensive and doesn’t fit in a one-hour time frame. Tests can only eliminate one diagnosis at a time. Questioning and family history can help a doctor arrive at the correct diagnosis, but even with the information gathered upfront, there are a huge number of tests to consider, and many tests may still be needed. Training doctors to use genomic sequencing is a powerful solution to the challenges facing today’s medical practice. Read more One little fish hooks genome researchers with its versatility Modern molecular biology and the genome of a tiny silver and black striped fish – the zebrafish – are making waves in genomics research. This tiny fish is a powerhouse tool that helps researchers better understand the genes that are implicated in disease. Here, at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), researchers are working to advance human health by coupling the potential of this little fish with an institute-funded resource known as The Zebrafish Core. Read more New NIH studies seek adults and families affected by sickle cell disease/trait People with sickle cell disease (SCD) can experience excruciating pain, kidney problems, a higher risk of stroke and, in rare cases, chronic leg ulcers. Little is known about why the severity of these symptoms varies throughout a lifetime or why these symptoms differ from person to person. NHGRI researchers are seeking help from people affected by SCD to find the factors – environmental, social and genetic – that impact the severity of the symptoms. Read more Video now available The Genomic Landscape of Breast Cancer in Women of African Ancestry On June 7, Olufunmilayo I. Olopade, M.D., F.A.C.P., presented The Genomic Landscape of Breast Cancer in Women of African Ancestry, the final lecture in the 2016 Genomics and Health Disparities Lecture Series. Dr. Olufunmilayo is director of the Center for Clinical Cancer Genetics at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. She is an expert in cancer risk assessment and treatment for aggressive forms of breast cancer. Watch video | Read about the series
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National Human Genome Research Institute
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Posted: July 1, 2016 at 9:49 pm
Every year, 4.1 million babies are born in the USA. On the basis of the well-known risk of Down syndrome, about 6,150 of these babies would be expected to suffer from this genetic condition, which is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21. In reality, only about 4,370 babies are born with Down syndrome; the others have been aborted during pregnancy. These estimates are based on a prevalence rate of 0.15% and an abortion rate of about 29% of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome in Atlanta, GA (Siffel et al, 2004), and Hawaii (Forrester & Merz, 2002)the only two US locations for which reliable data are available. Data from other regions are similar or even higher: 32% of Down syndrome fetuses were aborted in Western Australia (Bourke et al, 2005); 75% in South Australia (Cheffins et al, 2000); 80% in Taiwan (Jou et al, 2005); and 85% in Paris, France (Khoshnood et al, 2004). Despite this trend, the total number of babies born with Down syndrome is not declining in most industrialized nations because both the number of older mothers and the conception rate is increasing.
These abortions are eugenic in both intention and effectthat is, their purpose is to eliminate a genetically defective fetus and thus allow for a genetically superior child in a subsequent pregnancy. This is a harsh way of phrasing it; another way is to say that parents just want to have healthy children. Nevertheless, however it is phrased, the conclusion is starkly unavoidable: terminating the pregnancy of a genetically defective fetus is widespread. Moreover, because none of the countries mentioned above coerce parents into aborting deformed fetuses, these abortionswhich number many thousands each yearare carried out at the request of the parents, or at least the mothers. This high number of so-called medical abortions shows that many people, in many parts of the world, consider the elimination of a genetically defective fetus to be morally acceptable.
This high number of so-called medical abortions shows that many people consider the elimination of a genetically defective fetus to be morally acceptable
This form of eugenic selection is not confined to Down syndrome, which is characterized by mental retardation, a higher risk of various diseases, and a range of major and minor abnormalities in body structure and function. Fetuses with many disorders detectable by ultrasound in utero are also aborted. Data from the European Surveillance of Congenital Abnormalities shows that between 1995 and 1999 about 40% of infants with any one of 11 main congenital disorders were aborted in Europe (Garne et al, 2005). Similarly, the International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects Monitoring System (ICBDMS; Rome, Italy) provides data for the eight main industrialized (G8) countries. From this data, I calculate that in 2002, 20% of fetuses with apparent birth defects were aborted in G8 countriesthat is, between 30,000 and 40,000 fetuses. As a result, many congenital disorders are becoming rare (ICBDMS, 2004) and, as they do, infant mortality rates are also declining. In Western Australia, neonatal mortality rates due to congenital deformities declined from 4.36 to 2.75 per 1,000 births in the period from 1980 to 1998. Half of that decline is thought to be due to the increase in abortions of abnormal fetuses (Bourke et al, 2005).
The widespread acceptance of abortion as a eugenic practice suggests that there might be little resistance to more sophisticated methods of eugenic selection and, in general, this has been the case. Increasingly, prenatal diagnosis of genetic conditions is carried out on the basis of molecular tests for Mendelian disorders. There are few published data on the frequency and consequences of such tests, but a recent survey of genetic testing in Italy showed that about 20,000 fetuses were tested in 2004, mostly for mutations causing cystic fibrosis, Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy and Fragile X mental retardation (Dallapiccola et al, 2006). In Taiwan, screens for thalassaemia mutations have caused the live-birth prevalence of this disease to drop from 5.6 to 1.21 per 100,000 births over eight years (Chern et al, 2006).
However, such tests probably do not markedly decrease the mutational burden of a nation’s newborns. Usually, a fetus is only tested for a specific mutation when its family medical history indicates that there is a clear risk. If, as must often be the case, parents are oblivious to the fact that they are carriers of a genetic disorder, they will have no reason to undergo a prenatal diagnosis, which is both expensive and invasive. Fetuses are also not tested for de novo mutations. However, given that manyperhaps mostparents want healthy children, should all fetuses be screened for many disease-causing mutations?
It is a question that some geneticists are now asking (Van den Veyver & Beaudet, 2006). They point out that comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) microarrays could be used to screen a single embryo or fetus for thousands of mutations. One type of CGH microarray that is close to clinical application is designed to detect changes in gene copy number across the whole genome (Vissers et al, 2005). These arrays, which are based on bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) clones, can detect aneusomiesdeletions and duplicationsof about 100 kilobases in size. Such aneusomies are found in almost all individuals with no negative consequences, but a minority, which affect dosage-sensitive genes, cause disease. A recent study in which 100 patients with unexplained mental retardation were screened for aneusomies gives some indication of the importance of aneusomies in genetic disorders (de Vries et al, 2005). Most of the copy number changes found in these patients were also found in healthy parents or controls and thus were probably not responsible for the disease; however, ten patients had unique de novo mutations. Therefore, this study identified a likelyalbeit unprovengenetic cause of mental retardation in 10% of patients; a remarkable result for a single screen.
The virtue of a BAC-based microarray is that it can detect novel, as well as known, deletions and duplications; its limitation is that it misses the point mutations that are the cause of many, perhaps most, genetic diseases. Such mutations presumably account for at least some of the retardation in the 90 patients in whom no aneusomies were detected. At present there is no feasible method of screening the genome of a patient for all possible mutationsat least not without sequencing it. However, there is no technical obstacle to constructing an oligo-based micoarray able to detect all known disease-causing mutations.
there is no technical obstacle to constructing an oligo-based micoarray able to detect all known disease-causing mutations
How useful would such a microarray be? More precisely, if a geneticist were able to screen a randomly chosen embryo for all known disease genes, what is the probability that he or she would be able to predict a genetic disease should the embryo come to term and live to adulthood? At the time of writing, the Human Gene Mutation Database (HGMD; http://www.hgmd.cf.ac.uk) identifies 64,251 mutations in 2,362 human genes that impair health. Most of these mutations are individually rare, but collectively they are very common. Indeed, given that there are so many mutations, the probability that an embryo is at risk of a genetic disease caused by at least one of them must be quite high.
An individual’s risk of suffering from a genetic disease depends on the mode of inheritan
ce of the diseaseautosomal dominant (AD), X-linked recessive (XLR) or autosomal recessive (AR)and the global frequency of the causal mutation. A survey of 567 disease-causing loci from the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man database showed that about 59% are AD, 32% are AR, and 9% are XLR (Jimenez-Sanchez et al, 2001). Using these percentages with the 64,251 known disease-causing mutations in HGMD, we can estimate that 37,908 are AD, 20,560 are AR and 5,783 are XLR.
To complete our calculation, we need to know the typical global frequencies of each of these three types of mutation. It is surprisingly difficult to obtain global frequency data for disease alleles; however, Reich & Lander (2001) give the total frequencies of all known disease mutations for 14 monogenic diseases: 4 AD, 3 XLR, and 7 AR. The HGMD then provides us with the total number of disease-causing mutations known for each of these 14 genes, which ranges from 31 for haemochromatosis to 1,262 for cystic fibrosis.
Using these figures, I have calculated average allelic frequencies (). The fact that AR mutations are more common than AD or XLR mutations makes sense, as selection acts less intensively on them. Multiplying these numbers by the number of mutations in each inheritance class calculated above, while taking into account the mode of inheritance and assuming global HardyWeinberg equilibrium, I calculate that the probability of predicting an inherited disease in a randomly chosen human embryo is almost 0.4% (). Therefore, it should be possible to predict a disease in 1 in 252 embryos.
The probability of predicting a genetic disease in a random embryo if it were screened for all currently known mutations
The prediction of a genetic disease in a fetus does not necessarily indicate that it should be aborted. This decision ultimately depends on the strength of the prediction and the nature of the disease, both of which vary greatly among mutations. A female embryo with a single BRCA1 mutation, which is dominant, has a 68% probability of developing breast cancer by the age of 80 (Risch et al, 2001). Conversely, an embryo with two copies of the HFE C282Y mutation, which is recessive, has less than a 1% probability of developing haemochromatosis, a relatively mild blood disease (Beutler et al, 2002). Whether such risks warrant aborting either fetus is a decision to be made by its parents and their clinical advisors, but it should be noted that most of the mutations in the HGMD cause classical Mendelian disorders detected by family linkage studies and so have fairly high penetrance.
The estimate of the rate of disease prediction that I have given here is crude, but it is probably conservative. For convenience, I assumed a HardyWeinberg equilibrium, but in isolated populations or populations with a high degree of consanguinityfor instance, much of the Middle East through to Pakistanthe number of disease-causing homozygotes will be higher than my calculations. In addition, the rate of disease prediction will continue to rise as more and more disease-causing mutations are found. In 2005, 7,017 mutations were added to the HGMD26% more than in 2004.
One impediment to a universal, total prenatal screen for all known mutations is the invasive nature of the procedureit requires amniocentesis () or chorionic sampling to retrieve cells from the amniotic sacand the traumatic nature of the treatment, which is therapeutic abortion. Perhaps, then, a total mutation screen will not be used in prenatal diagnosis, but rather in preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). This procedure tests embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for chromosomal abnormalities and specific mutations before implantation, by removing a single cell from the embryo at the eight-cell stage. Healthy embryos are then implanted; poor embryosshowing one or several abnormalitiesare frozen or discarded. As in prenatal diagnosis, PGD is generally carried out only when a family medical history suggests that the embryo is at risk of a specific disease (Braude et al, 2002). Since its introduction in the mid-1980s, the procedure has spread quickly, although it remains illegal in some countries, such as Germany, which does, however, allow prenatal screens for a range of severe inheritable diseases. Data collected by the European IVF-monitoring Programme for the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE; Grimbergen, Belgium) showed that 1,563 PGD screens were recorded in 25 European nations in 2002, compared with 882 in 2001 (Andersen et al, 2006). There do not seem to be any comparable data for the USA, but given the large number of US IVF clinics offering PGDand the lack of regulationthe number of people across the world who have survived a PGD screen must now number tens of thousands.
the number of people across the world who have survived a PGD screen must now number tens of thousands
Ultrasound scan to amniocentesis test. Amniocentesis is a diagnostic procedure performed by inserting a needle (seen on the left) through the abdominal wall into the uterus and withdrawing a small amount of fluid from the sac surrounding the fetus. The …
How common will PGD become? Is it possible that one day every citizen of an industrialized nation will have survived, as an embryo, a PGD screen? Most commentators who have considered such a scenariowhich was portrayed in the movie GATTACAdo not think so (Silver, 2000). Their main argument is that PGDand the need to use IVFis too expensive, inconvenient and limited in application to ever become widespread. They have a point: nature has contrived a cheap, easy and enjoyable way to conceive a child; IVF is none of these things.
However, the difficulties might be exaggerated. A course of IVF in the UK costs between 7,000 and 10,000expensive, but cheaper than a mid-range car, and trivial compared with the costs of raising a child. Conception rates using IVF are generally lower compared with the old-fashioned method, but that is because many of the women who undergo IVF are relatively old (CDC, 2003). For women under 35 who have no fertility problems, the success rate per cycle is greater than 50%, which is comparable to natural monthly conception rates. However, perhaps the most important evidence against the idea that IVFand PGDwill not catch on is the observation that it already has. At present, about 1% of Americans are conceived using IVF, and each year 4% of Danes start their life in a petri dish (Nyboe Andersen & Erb, 2006). It seems possible that if the cost of IVF decreases further and the number of PGD screens expands, an increasing number of parents will choose not to subject their children to the vicissitudes of natural conception and the risk of severe genetic disease.
It seems possible that an increasing number of parents will choose not to subject their children to the vicissitudes of natural conception and the risk of severe genetic disease
Ultimately, the argument for a universal, total mutation screen will be based on its economic costs and benefits. It is too soon to draw up a detailed balance sheet, but we can suggest some numbers. Congenital mental retardation afflicts about 51,000 children annually in the USA; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each afflicted child will cost the US economy $1 million over the course of his or her lifethat is, a collective cost of $51 billion (CDC, 2004). This does not include the social and emotional cost that parents assume
in raising a mentally disabled child, which all but defy quantification.
Will neo-eugenics spread? Probably. At least it is hard to see what will stop it if, as I claim, it becomes possible to detect all known disease-causing mutations before birth or implantation, if the cost of IVF and PGD declines, and if eugenic screens have clear economic benefits. Some readers might find it peculiar that in this discussion of neo-eugenics, I have not considered the ethical or legal implications with which this subject is generally considered to be fraught. Although I do not doubt their importance, I simply have no particular knowledge of them. Peter Medawar put it best 40 years ago: If the termination of a pregnancy is now in question, scientific evidence might tell us that the chances of a defective birth are 100 percent, 50 percent, 25 percent, or perhaps unascertainable. The evidence is highly relevant to the decision, but the decision itself is not a scientific one, and I see no reason why scientists as such should be specially well-qualified to make it (Medawar, 1966).
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Posted: June 29, 2016 at 6:30 pm
I originally wrote this article for the Journal ReVision Winter 2003.
Female Shamanism, Goddess Cultures, and Psychedelics by Karen Vogel
The Goddess came consciously into my life after I moved to Berkeley, California, in 1975. I began attending Goddess rituals, studying with psychic healers, practicing yoga and looking at images of goddesses in prehistoric and indigenous art. Many experiences came together in rapid succession to lead me to co-create the Motherpeace Tarot deck with Vicki Noble. The Motherpeace deck is based on iconography and consciousness of the Goddess. The psychedelic world view is represented in the deck by Amanita muscaria, peyote, cannabis, morning glories, datura, poppies, and tobacco.
The viewpoint I gained from psychedelics and my ongoing relationship with the Goddess propelled me to search for the roots, the history and practices associated with the three important threads in my life, female shamanism, Goddess cultures and psychedelics. I want to know about my lineage. I’m following a calling to research these realms and create art that is informed by my exploration. As part of my quest, I carved in wood a close replica of a relief carving from the Louvre of two women, or goddesses, holding mushrooms (fig. 1). The original carving is on a funeral marker or stele from Thessaly in northern Greece, dated around 470 B.C.E. Through the story of this particular image I will explore what might have happened in ancient Greek culture to the Goddess, female shamanism, and psychedelics in the transition to a more patriarchal way of life.
Figure 1. Mushroom Shaman-Priestesses woodcarving in cypress 11″x15″ by Karen Vogel. Replica of Exaltation of the Flower, stele from Thessaly, 470 B.C.E., in the collection of the Louvre Museum, Paris.
Women healers have been around as long as there have been women. I think these early women healers had many skills and much knowledge, which eventually developed into a tradition of female shamanism.
Our human ancestors had the ability to self-medicate because of our animal heritage. Animals are incredibly discerning at diagnosing ailments and seeking out certain plants or minerals to treat a variety of ailments. Animals are also very precise about using the correct dosage. Animals also know how to get intoxicated. Some even use psychedelics. (2002, Engel,C.). Caribou seem to love to ingest the hallucinogenic mushroom Amanita muscaria. (1997, Devereux,P.). Our ancestors also knew about psychedelics. Human use of psychedelics may be as old as humanity.
The roots of female shamanism may go back more then 5 million years and be linked with our ancestors upright posture. Once our ancestors stood upright there would be a need for midwives, according Ian Tattersal, one of the leaders in the study of human evolution and curator at the Museum of Natural History in New York City (Ian Tattersal, Becoming Human p.121-122).
It is rare for women to give birth alone. Usually cultures have midwives. The !Kung San or Ju/’hoansi (pronounced: zhu-twasi) as they prefer to be known, a gathering and hunting people of Botswana in southern Africa, are reported to ideally give birth alone. Marjorie Shostack says in her book Nisa, that a woman may give birth alone, but close enough to camp that she could call out for help. Shostack explains:
“A !Kung woman will have on average, four of five live births during her reproductive life. With each successive birth, she is more likely to attain the ideal of delivering alone. Without telling anyone, she walks a few hundred yards from the village, prepares a cushion of leaves, and gives birth to her child. Accompanied or not, most births occur close enough to the village so that others can hear the baby’s first cries. This signals the woman’s female relatives and friends that the child has been born and that the mother may welcome assistance in delivering the afterbirth, cutting the umbilical cord, and wiping the baby clean. Perhaps carrying the baby for her, other women will accompany her back to the village. Only the most experienced and determined woman insist on being alone during these last stages.”(Nisa, p.181)
Humans are almost unique in our use of midwives. Most animals give birth alone, though midwives have been observed among elephants, dolphins and bats. The human need for midwives undoubtedly increased, as the size of newborns heads increased. In our evolution humans have struck a delicate balance with our large heads. Our big brains make for difficult births. The trend in the human line (hominids) has been for our babies to be born less mature so a great deal of the brain growth happens after a baby is born. As a result of this evolutionary strategy, human babies are born “immature” and need care for a long time compared to other animals. This puts all sorts of demands on social structure and nursing mothers in particular. It also must have increased the demands on midwives. Midwives have the experience of catching babies and usually at some points in their lives are also pregnant and give birth. This double experience, over millions of years, gives midwives a vast body of knowledge about pregnancy, birth and child rearing. This body of knowledge would include what to do if something goes wrong, or someone gets sick, or hurt. The importance in human evolution of the tradition of midwifery seems to me to be the logical root of female shamanism.
Shamanism is a concept that has many meanings attached to it. The more I study shamanism the broader I become in my use of the term. I think it encompasses a world-view as profound and yet very different from other world religions. I think there are many ways of being a shaman and using shamanic energy. We all have shamanic moments, such as in birth and death.
Some people draw distinctions between true shamans and herbal practitioners. Others draw the line between shamans, doctors, and priest/priestesses. I think it is impossible to make such distinctions. A shaman is a profession or calling with no set rules about how to enter the profession or precisely what is done once someone is a shaman.
A shaman can gain the position hereditarily through a lineage or family tradition. People in a community or extended family will see that a young child has talents or special experiences. The talents and experiences of an individual can grow into a calling to undertake a period of apprenticeship to become a shaman. Bonnie Glass-Coffin worked with female healers in northern Peru. Glass-Coffin reports that some of the healers inherited their mesa or altar and healing tools from relatives after the relative died.
The period of apprenticeship can include many ways of learning. A person may study with one or more shaman, or someone may study directly with a certain plant or substance. The apprenticeship may include accidental or chosen “ordeals” both physical and mental. Through this time of apprenticeship an individual develops a reputation based on results. Eventually the individual is acknowledged for her abilities as a shaman.
An individual may be recognized for certain talents such as midwifery or healing a particular class of diseases, protecting, or finding things (i.e. plants, animals or lost objects) or controlling weather. A shaman may use touch and massage, sweats, medicinal plants, animals and minerals. These techniques or substances can produce altered states or be medicinal in other ways.
A shaman may be particularly adept at entering trance and altered states and dealing with unseen forces, restoring balance and doing “soul retrieval”. The repair work or healing may be for an individual or community or the earth itself. These so-called world renewal ceremonies and dances are still performed by the local tribes, in many of the roundhouses all around northern California.
A shaman can also harm others by being a poisoner, sending darts or illness and death. A shaman can make or have power objects, which some shamans believe are the source of their power. A shaman can be an artist, storyteller or ritual leader. A shaman may use sandpaintings, songs, dances, sweats and community rituals to create and heighten the energy used to heal.
Shamans may use power for war and peace, to control weather and other environmental factors. Some shamans may be feared or be afflicted, with what might be called mental or physically illness. In other cases a shaman can be an exceptionally strong and clear individual who is loved and respected by an extended community.
The respect, participation, and belief of a community in shamanism enable individual talents to flourish and grow. Shamans interact and trade plants and techniques with each other. Shamanism is a group activity and a worldview. It is easy to be dazzled by someone’s talents and forget all that goes into making the magic, ritual or healing happen. Many people tended and collected the plants, gathered and ground the pigments, painted the rock walls, created and learned the songs and dances and made the regalia which were used in the rituals of the shaman.
Shamanism is a community activity especially it seems when it comes to female shamanism. Bonnie Glass-Coffin explains female healing traditions with the term coessence. “Coessence, in contrast to both transcendence and immanence, locates shamanic power and spiritual energy upon which shamans draw neither within nor without the boundaries of this world. Instead, coessence implies that this thing flows between worlds. When the shaman taps into this source of power, she is not transcending dichotomies and she is not healing”on behalf of” her patients. Instead, she is facilitating a reestablishment of the energy flow between spirit and matter, between individual and group, and between shaman and patient. Shamanic power and shamanic voyage is, thus, inherently relational.” (Glass-Coffin, 1998, p.188-9)
Human experience of altered states became evident in the Paleolithic, around forty thousand years ago, in a creative flowering of art and ritual. At this time what I call goddess culture took hold in the art in a number of places around the world, a significant milepost in the development of female shamanism.
My personal experience with the Goddess and discovery of prehistoric goddess cultures came after my first experiences with psychedelics. I felt immediately connected with early art because the things that I had seen and felt on psychedelics were reflected in these first images of forty thousand years ago. The geometric and other abstract patterns of the early art painted on rock and cave walls were often linked with female imagery. In my mind it makes sense to put together the great mysterious realm of shapes and colors of psychedelics, with my experience of the Goddess.
This eruption of art forty thousand years ago is remarkable because it happened in many places in the world around the same time. Paintings and engravings on rock walls from around the thirty to forty thousand years ago are found in Africa, Asia and Europe. The Americas may be added to the list, if controversial early dates are substantiated. I will use the term rock art to refer to paintings and engravings on rocks including those inside caves. Cave art in Europe is often called Ice Age art because forty thousand years ago Europe was in a period of glaciers called the Ice Age.
The sudden worldwide proliferation of art forty thousand years ago is shocking. The only vague explanation I’ve found is something called “a slow acting neural transformation in the human brain.” (McKie, R. 2000 p. 195). I think that is a fancy way of saying; we don’t know how or why art started at the same time, in different location that had no known contact.
Even if we don’t know why art began many scholars have tried to figure out what the early art means. David Lewis-Williams, a South African archeologist, has become well known in the field of rock art. He has used the innovative approach of interviewing people from cultures where rock art is still used. He discovered that the San (!Kung San or Ju/’hoansi) people go into altered states or trance by touching the images on rock walls.
Lewis-Williams also studied altered states with T.E. Dowson. They developed a system of three stages of visual imagery that people experience when in altered states. The stages are a way of recognizing and discussing imagery that can seem to be random. The incomprehensible array of dots, lines and geometric shapes are considered to be the first stage and supernatural beings are the third stage. The second stage is an intermediary between the two in which thing may be recognizable, but not animated or mythological as in the third stage. Lewis-Williams says that there aren’t hard and fast lines between the 3 stages.
In other work, Lewis-Williams collaborated with Jean Clottes, an eminent scholar of the rock art of Ice Age Europe. Lewis-Williams and Clottes believe that this early rock art is evidence of shamanism and that the art comes from shamanic practices, rituals and altered states.(Clottes,J. and Lewis-Williams,D.,1998).
Female figurines also say something about Paleolithic humans. These so-called Paleolithic “Venus” figurines are found in great numbers all over Europe. There is speculation about what they are ranging from Goddesses to early male pornography.
I think they are Goddesses. In particular they seem to be very good depictions of what it must feel like to be pregnant. I would venture to say that whoever made these early sculptures knew from the inside what it was like to be pregnant. If that’s true the artists of the figurines were mothers. This flies in the face of the assumptions that sculptors of hard materials, like stone, must be male. In order to gain understanding, anthropologists are encouraged to participate in the culture they are studying. In archeology this practice is called hermeneutic archeology. (Schaafsma,P. 1997 p.8)
I’m not Paleolithic despite what some of my friends might say, but I am a sculptor of hard materials. I’ve found that I need inspirations that are strong enough to motivate me to sit for countless hours chipping, etching and slowly, almost imperceptibly, grinding away at hard surfaces. I also need time to sit for long hours. No matter how much the Paleolithic mind and culture may differ from ours, I don’t see that a Paleolithic sculptor was all that different from me in these essential qualities, whether that person was male or female. We know the Paleolithic sculptors and painters had a good deal of time to be creative because we have the art as evidence of their labor-intensive work. The nature of the inspiration is open to speculation.
The goddess figurines are often said to be symbols of a fertility cult. I think that is too narrow. Instead I believe they speak of many things, including a profound sense of awe around birth and death. The Goddess is a midwife, as well as the mother from which everything is born. These early Goddesses are impressive expressions of the pregnant state. They are also good depictions of a baby’s view in which a mother is a large, round, encompassing being. In many of the Paleolithic figurines I also see old age and the forces of gravity and erosion returning matter to the earth. These figurines could represent the knowledge that we come from the mother in birth and we return to her in death. Perhaps these figurines were shamanic tools of midwives in their important role as priestesses to new life and healer/shamans when necessary.
Though the roots of shamanism are probably much older. Siberian shamanism is often used as the model for all shamanic tradition because it was one area where shamanism was first extensively studied. Among the many tribes found across Siberia, the word used to indicate a male shaman varied, whereas the term for female shaman was the same. Archeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball concludes in her recent book “In fact, if we are to believe the linguists, women were also the first shamans. The roots of shamanism are to be found in Paleolithic Siberia, where a single term… always referred to the female shaman.” (Davis-Kimball, J. 2002 p.236).
So, here we are forty thousand years ago with evidence of female shamanism and goddess culture. What about the third thread: psychedelics? There is no direct evidence that our Paleolithic ancestors used psychedelics, yet I believe our animal lineage indicates humans always knew about them. “The use of hallucinogens is in fact one of humankind’s most widespread practices. Everywhere people in small-scale societies have remarkable knowledge of plants and there psychoactive properties, and this was almost certainly the case in the Upper Paleolithic.” (Clottes,J. and Lewis-Williams, D. 1998 p. 22).
Based on this assumption I would say that the use of psychedelics was an intricate part of the female shamanistic tradition and the developing goddess culture.
I use the term goddess culture not because I think there was a monotheistic ideology of goddess worship sweeping across the world during the Paleolithic. Instead I’m painting broad brush stokes across time to show a pattern and possible trend in human history. To me the widespread creation of female figurines means the great mysterious spirit realm began to be personified as the Goddess.
What I have always loved about the Goddess is that I have my own idiosyncratic relationship with Her. She can have many aspects or personas. I learn from others experiences and certainly have been inspired by all sorts of images, writing and rituals. Still it is all mediated through my direct experience and relationship with the Goddess.
Two intriguing images that come from widely separated cultures both around ten thousand years ago. To me both look like possible connections between Goddess cultures and the use of psychedelic mushrooms. The first is from a famous and extraordinary rock art complex called Tassilli in southern Algeria. (fig 2). In this image, a large goddess figure gesture to a smaller individual in a mask and a net garment sprouting four mushrooms. The other image (fig. 3), from a site in Turkey. depicts a mushroom headed goddess who, with her prominent vulva may be giving birth.
Figure 2. Rock painting from Tassili, southern Algeria, 6000 B.C.E. Drawn by Karen Vogel
Figure 3. Image on a rock wall of a ceremonial building in Gobelki Tepe, Turkey, 9000 B.C.E. Drawn by Karen Vogel
Currently I know of only two cultures that uses any psychedelics as part of labor. Midwives among the Mazatec of Mexico sometimes use morning glories (Kathleen Harrison, 2000 in Palmer and Horowitz p.304). Women among the Huichol may take peyote during pregnancy. (Susana Valadez, personal communication 2002). Stacy Shaeffer reports that Huichol women use peyote “especially while in labor, to ease the birth process” (Schaefer 2002, 56).
I would link female shamanism to midwifery and psychedelics, but I don’t think that psychedelics were necessarily used in labor. Psychedelic experiences are integrated into a culture as a whole. It informs and effects daily life in many ways, from the patterns in the artwork, to the entire worldview of a group. Even if a particular individual has not taken a psychedelic, they are already living in a psychedelic culture. Datura was used widely in a number of California Indian tribes yet some individuals may take Datura only once in their life. (Bean,J.L.,1992).
The gathering and hunting cultures of Paleolithic Eurasia lasted for around thirty thousand years from the emergence of art forty thousand years ago until around ten thousand ago. Then, most likely women since they were the primary plant gatherers invented methods to grow plants and select for more productive crops. This new subsistence strategy emerged in a number of cultures around the world. (Hawkes,J. 1976)
The tending plants and animals enabled settled agricultural civilization to flourish in what’s called Neolithic Europe from ten thousand to three thousand years ago. These cultures continued to make art. Goddess figurines were the predominant and pervasive features of the art created by the people of Neolithic Europe.
There is a great debate about how goddess centered cultures of Neolithic Europe ended. Some believe that warrior nomadic horse cultures invaded from the eastern steppes. Still others look to causes from within the cultures. There is also evidence for cataclysmic events, such as drought and flooding, displacing people.
The Neolithic was changed five thousand years ago by the discovery of metallurgy. This led to the need for huge amounts of wood for smelting the raw ore into usable metal. It began with copper, eventually leading to bronze and iron. One of the first large-scale operations was on the island of Cyprus. The island is endowed with an excellent source of copper, iron and trees. The forest was cut down and regrew at least 16 times over two thousand years of copper mining and smelting. (McPhee, J. 1993 p.143). Finally the trees were decimated and the island abandoned by 90 percent of the inhabitants. (Perlin,J. 1989)
The increased trade of metal and other goods created a need for bigger boats, which also required more and more, trees. Imagine this pattern occurring over and over across Europe for several thousand years. This had to be a tremendous factor in the development of warfare to find, control and steal resources and then move on. A familiar pattern to this day. Repeated raids and invasions transformed the Neolithic civilizations of Europe. People fought back, ran, hide and adapted.
The pressure of war and raiding may have been a major reason for the breakup of the large settlements that had developed across Neolithic Europe including cultures in Thessaly. I think that war came from many locations, including city-states expanding their domain and nomadic cultures raiding and conquering. I don’t know who started war, but once it got going it became impossible for large peaceful communities to survive. Some were able to continue for a time on islands such as Crete. By this time Thessaly had become a key factor in the struggle between the city-states of Athens and Sparta for domination of the Greek peninsula and lands beyond. This is the backdrop for life in Thessaly when the grave marker or stele was created in 470BCE that inspired my carving in figure 1.
Thessaly is in an important geographic location for a number of reasons. For one thing it sits at the doorway to the vast timber resources of Macedonia. Athens power was based on dominance of the sea. In order to maintain this position of power they needed reliable access to wood to build more ships and forge metal weapons.
Whoever controlled Thessaly could block attacks by land because they controlled the mountain pass that led from Macedonia into Thessaly and the rest of Greece. That would force anyone that wanted to attack Greece to do so by ship. Thessaly tried to make an alliance with Sparta. Sparta declined and Thessaly made a deal with Athens. Athens became the dominant power until it fell to Sparta in the Peloponnesian war fought during the later part of the 5th Century B.C.E.
By 470 B.C.E. earlier invaders of the Greek peninsula had already pushed many of the previous inhabitants of Thessaly into the mountains and off the rich soil of the plains of Thessaly. These former inhabitants are presumed to have been descendents of earlier Neolithic Goddess civilizations of Thessaly. These so-called mountain people are important links to the earlier female shamanism of the Neolithic Goddess cultures of Thessaly.
From Neolithic Thessaly, including the archeological sites of Nea Nikomedeia, come numerous female figurines. These artifacts as well as others, indicate a strong orientation to the Goddess existing in that part of Greece at least 6000 years ago. Vicki Noble (2003) believes the name Nea(new) Niko(victory) Medeia(wise woman) may be “referring to a “dynastic” legacy or lineage of shaman-priestesses.” (Noble,V. 2003)
The most compelling evidence that these Neolithic Goddess cultures may have used psychedelics comes from a site around 400 miles north of Thessaly near Belgrade. Mushroom stones from a Neolithic Goddess culture site from 7000 years ago were found in area known as Vinca. The archeologist and renowned scholar of Neolithic European Goddess civilizations Marija Gimbutas says: “The fact that the mushrooms were carved out of the best available stone alone speaks for the prominent role of the mushroom in magic and cult…and it is possible that the Vinca mushrooms were connected with intoxicating drinks.”(Gimbutas 1974 p. 220) (figure 4).
Figure 4. Stone mushrooms, approximately 3″, from Vinca, near Belgrade, 5000B.C.E. Drawn by Karen Vogel
By the time the stele was made, the earlier inhabitants, who had become the people of the mountains, were a number of different tribes renowned for their horse riding skills and herbal practices. In fact they are believed to be the legendary centaurs. One form of centaurs is the horse and human amalgam. But there are numerous other animals that are mixed together and also called centaurs. The centaurs were known as sorcerers or witches. They practiced the shamanic art of shapeshifting by turning into animals, or using animals as allies to augment their human power. (Lawson,J.C. 1964 p.252)
The ancient Greek writer Apollodorus said Thessaly was “always the home of magic” (Harrison,J.E. 1963 p.81). There is evidence that the people of Thessaly coped with drought by having rituals to make rain. According to Jane Ellen Harrison, a scholar of ancient Greece, “Magic was no hole and corner practice but an affair of public ritual, performed with full social sanction.” (Harrison,J.E. 1963 p.82). The rainmaking ritual is said to have included a dance on hobbyhorses, which is a further link to the centaurs. (Graves,R. 1996 p.199)
The Greeks were able to dominate the land of the earlier inhabitants, but not the spirituality and healing practices of the people. The name of the Thessalian Goddess is Enodia. She is represented riding a horse on the coins of a city in Thessaly beginning 480 B.C.E. (Rabinowitz,J. 1998 p.37). Enodia became the Greek Goddess Hekate in the fifth century. Hekate was originally a multifaceted Goddess who was associated with childbirth, death, the crossroads and healing. She actually embodied the mother (Demeter), maiden (Persephone) and Crone. She was also sometimes called Artemis and both were Goddesses of childbirth and of wild places. Eventually Hekate was relegated to the image of a crone and Goddess of witches and the underworld.
Hekate is considered a midwife to birth and death. The following quote from Hesiod speaks to Hekate’s power over birth and death: “and those whose business is in the grey discomfortable sea, and who pray to Hekate and loud-crashing Earth Shaker, easily the glorious goddess gives great catch, and easily she takes away as soon as seen, if she so will.” (Hesiod(Theo. 440-52) from Rabinowitz,J. 1998 p.20)
Thessaly is renowned for it’s female healers or witches, as they are called in the writings of Greek historians. Robert Graves says, “That Zeus did not deny her (Hekate) the ancient power or granting every mortal his heart’s desire is a tribute to the Thessalian witches, of whom everyone stood in dread.” (Graves,R. 1955 v1 p.124-5).
Part of what must have made people stand in dread is the female shaman-priestesses ability to use poisons such as aconite and hallucinogens such as datura. According to Robert Graves aconite was called hecateis, named for Hekate who first used it. Aconite, creates a numbing sensation and was used by the Thessalian witches to make a flying ointment. (Graves,R. 1955,1996 p.471-2). Datura stramonium is what the English herbalist Gerard thought the Greeks called hippomanes, known for driving horses mad. (Schultes,R.E. and Hoffman,A., 1992 p.109)
Originally when I carve my version of the stele from Thessaly I thought the figures were Demeter and Persephone. I had read that the stele was connected with the Eleusinian Mysteries, which is associated with Demeter and Persephone and the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms (Samorini, G. 1998 p.60). The initial assumption is that the two women are Demeter and Persephone. The reasoning goes that Demeter is associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries. Therefore the stele is believed to be evidence for hallucinogenic mushrooms being used in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Ludovic Laugier, Scientific Collaborator of the Department of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the Louvre Museum said of the stele: “Here, the dead woman seems to be on the right: she’s the one receiving gifts. We don’t know whether this indicates a mother and daughter or two sisters. Another mystery: The contents of the bag of seeds being handed over by the survivor. Perhaps in receiving seeds, the deceased is receiving symbols of renaissance? This is but a hypothesis”(personal communication, 2001).
Speculation is tricky business especially when it is based on an image. I want to see female shaman-priestesses. Ludovic Laugier sees flowers and seeds, in a funerary image of symbols of death and rebirth. Giorgio Samorini sees mushrooms and a mushroom presentation bag. In his opinion the presence of mushrooms connects the stele to the Eleusinian Mysteries, which is associated with Demeter and Persephone. So for him the two females appear to be older and younger or the mother goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. (Samorini, G. 1998).
The site of the Eleusinian Mysteries was a temple 14 miles outside of Athens. The first temple was built in the 8th Century B.C.E. It was destroyed during the Persian Wars around 480 B.C.E. The temple was rebuilt after 460 B.C.E. It became widely known for the Eleusinian mysteries after it was rebuilt. This chronology seems important to me because the stele was made during a time when there was no temple at Eleusis and before the new one was built.
What actually occurred during the ceremonies in the temple is secret. We do know that participants drank something called kykeon and had amazing experiences of life and death. It certainly sounds as if the drink was hallucinogenic. Psychedelic or entheogen scholars have tried to discover what was in the brew.
Some people think it was ergot, a fungal parasite on grain that can have effects similar to LSD. There are many strains of ergot and it can be a tricky and toxic hallucinogen. Others think the Eleusinian drink contained some other hallucinogenic mushroom containing psilocybin. Some suggest it was a combination of ergot and psilocybin.
I think that hallucinogens were used in Greece at the Eleusinian Mysteries. Perhaps it was a combination of ergot and psylocibin or some other species of hallucinogenic mushroom such as panaeolus or Amanita muscaria. (Graves, R.,1960. Samorini, G. 1998.) Whatever the actual content of kykeon, it is an impressive feat to dose and conduct a ritual in a temple with three thousand people in an altered state.
The Eleusinian Mysteries seem to have provided a really important experience of ecstasy and Goddess energy through Demeter and Persephone. Women were virtual slaves in Athens during the 5th century B.C.E. Perhaps it was revitalistic practice and reaction to the repression of Goddess culture and ecstatic experiences of an earlier era.
Revitalistic is an anthropological term, applied to practices that happen when cultures are in times of great change. People create ceremonies to bring back old ways that are being swept away and repressed by new power. The Eleusinian Mysteries seem to me to be a revitalistic cult.
Women in 5th Century B.C.E. Athens were under male authority and expected to stay in the home. For all it’s so called democracy Athens was firmly in the grips of patriarchy. The Eleusinian Mysteries may have provided a controlled outlet for lost freedom. Through the power of psychedelics people could experience the Goddess and the mysteries of life and death.
I think the desire to link the stele from Thessaly to the use of hallucinogens at the Eleusinian Mysteries is important to psychedelic or entheogen scholars because it can be used to give a history and distinguished lineage to the use of psychedelics. Having a lineage or history has been important to many current users of psychedelics. If psychedelics were used in Greece, at the birthplace of western civilization, psychedelics are civilized. In other words the use of hallucinogens is can be associated with literate as well than as preliterate people.
But the stele comes from Thessaly. There is no reason to assume that the two women are Demeter and Persephone. Steles or funeral markers are thought to show the diseased person’s life and not to depict deities. Also the stele is dated 470 BCE, which is exactly the time when there was no Eleusinian temple, presumable there were no Eleusinian Mysteries. It was after the first temple was destroyed and rebuilt that the Eleusinian Mysteries gained widespread fame. In 470 BCE in Thessaly, it would be unlikely to have the Eleusinian Mysteries portrayed on a stele.
I think the stele is of two shaman-priestesses. I believe that the long tradition of shaman-priestesses played an important part in the development of cultures. It makes sense that the tradition be represented and honored on a funeral stele. The tradition of funeral steles is thought to represent an important event or aspect of someone’s life. Perhaps the stele is an image of two priestesses honoring the death of one of them.
The two women in the stele look the same age, not younger and older. To me the women in the stele are entranced with each other and the mushrooms. I think these shaman-priestesses of Thessaly were commemorating their relationship as colleagues and the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.
What is that so-called bag in the hand of the woman on the left? In the carving I did of the piece, I left the object obscure, because it looked to me like she could actually be holding the end of the other women’s peplos (dress or robe). Were they lovers? Our perhaps the removing of the peplos had symbolic meaning. A Greek ritual existed in which a larger then life wooden “puppet” of a Goddess would be renewed yearly by redressing the Goddess with a new peplos or robe. (Jane Ellen Harrison 1913 p.179-80). The removing of the robe could be a symbol of rebirth.
In my own experience, death and psychedelics go hand in hand. In my first experiences with psychedelics over thirty years ago, I was mesmerized by the visual effects and sensations in my body. I’m still astounded visually and physically. Over the years, as I’ve developed in the rest of my life, I’ve learned to navigate the psychedelic terrain and stunning visual and body effects. I’ve also learned how to work with patterns and disharmony, repairing and soothing what is broken or tangled in the design of the world and in my life.
A near-death experience when I was eighteen preceded both the Goddess and psychedelics. I was unconscious for two days with a fractured skull, the result of a car accident. When I woke suddenly I was flooded with the most extraordinary and powerful feeling of love.
I know there are all sorts of brain chemistry reasons why I might have woke up telling my mother and everyone else I knew that I loved them. I was changed and opened in a way I’ll never forget. This experience as continued to fuel and inform my life. Certainly it deeply colors my expectations about death. It was my initiation into my future work with psychedelics, the Goddess and love. In the course of my research I found this quote from the Jungian therapist and scholar Nor Hall in which she refers to the stele. She thinks they are Demeter and Persephone holding poppies. No matter, she gives a lovely summing up of Goddesses, female shaman-priestesses and psychedelics. “The frieze of the poppy-bearing goddesses arrest them eternally in the moment of passing into each other. Sometimes the point of passage is thought of as the Maiden Well, where Demeter sat grieving awaiting “‘the flowering from the depths'”
“Hekate becomes a witch whose power is magic rather than realization, and the passing of the phases or psychological states into each other is accomplished -if at all- by the use of too many “aids” (seeds,brew,grass, chemical), rendering the experience inaccessible and antipodal to consciousness. Hekate can poison as well as intoxicate, turn ecstasy into madness, and cause death where incubation -or short journey- was intended.” (1980 p.63-64)
In this passage Hall is using Hekate to represent the negative or shadow side of psychedelics. Psychedelics are a powerful tool for healing. Psychedelics can certainly be misused or over used. People can become numb or deluded when the primary focus becomes high dosage, frequent use, and multiple combinations without a sacred setting.
It has been important to me to link the use of psychedelics to shamanism and the Goddess. Susana Valadez says of women’s ritual among the Huichol, who use peyote and other hallucinagens:”Women perform many rituals for healing and shamanic powers where they invoke the Mother Creator, Tacutsi. The goddess reveals knowledge the women seek only after a long arduous path. Magical plants and animals provide the women with the power objects and “tools” they need in order to successfully channel communication from the spirit world into their everyday lives.” (1992, 39)
Shamanism, the Goddess and psychedelics are widespread despite the concerted efforts to stamp them out. The inquisition did significant damage wherever the hand or ideas of the church reached. But people are good at hiding, retreating to wild places, disguising and adapting practices. The Mazatec Indians pray to the Virgin of Guadeloupe in their mushroom ceremonies. Ayahuasca takes on a Christian flavor in Santo Diame. Southern California Indians developed Chingchinix, a syncretic mix of Christianity and Datura.
Our modern day inquisition makes hallucinogens and other mind-altering medicine illegal. In addition, tactics of ridicule, accusations of pre-scientific thinking, superstition and co-opting have made inroads in old, well develop practices of shamanism, Goddess worship and psychedelic use. Much is lost, yet many practices remain, some taking root in new soil.
There is an image from a Greek vase that I found instructive (fig. 5). The horned snake is coiled around a tree. Two mushrooms grow at the spring flowing from the roots of the tree. One priestess steps on her vase to begin her ascent. The second priestess floats beside the tree offering the snake a plate. The third priestess descends with her vase filled.
Figure 5. Image on a Greek vase, from a latern slide in the collection of Jane Ellen Harrison (1963, p.431). Drawn by Karen Vogel.
To me the ritual use of psychedelic mushrooms is clear in this image. Go to a sacred space. Empty yourself as you begin the climb. Enjoy yourself, and honor, respect and feed the snake guardian of the medicine. Receive the healing and descend back to the ground with you vase refilled.
My hope is that everyone, who wants to, can find productive, healing and ecstatic uses for psychedelics. Female shamanism, the Goddess and psychedelics have a long history and lineage. I hope in particular, women can continue to develop psychedelic healing traditions that serve us all in the future.
Bean, John Lowell, editor 1992, California Indian Shamanism, Ballena Press, Menlo Park
Clottes, Jean and Lewis-Williams, David 1998 The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves, Harry N. Abrams, New York.
Davis-Kimball with Behan, Mona 2002 Warrior Woman: An Archeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines, Warner Books, New York.
Devereux, Paul 1997 The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia, Penguin/Arkana, New York
Engel, Cindy 2002 Wild Health, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston and New York.
Gimbutas, Marija 1974, 1982 The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe 6500-3500BC Myths and Cult Images, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
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Posted: June 21, 2016 at 6:47 am
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Updated February 29, 2016.
Definition: Oppression is a type of injustice. Oppression is the inequitable use of authority, law, or physical force to prevent others from being free or equal. The verb oppress can mean to keep someone down in a social sense, such as an authoritarian government might do in an oppressive society. It can also mean to mentally burden someone, such as with the psychological weight of an oppressive idea.
Feminists fight against the oppression of women. Women have been unjustly held back from achieving full equality for much of human history in many societies around the world. Feminist theorists of the 1960s and 1970s looked for new ways to analyze this oppression, often concluding that there were both overt and insidious forces in society that oppressed women.
These feminists also drew on the work of earlier authors who had analyzed the oppression of women, including Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex and Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Many common types of oppression are described as isms such as sexism, racism and so on.
The opposite of oppression would be liberation (to remove oppression) or equality (absence of oppression).
In much of the written literature of the ancient and medieval world, we have evidence of women’s oppression by men in European, Middle Eastern and African cultures. Women did not have the same legal and political rights as men, and were under control of fathers and husbands in almost all societies.
In some societies in which women had few options for supporting their life if not supported by a husband, there was even a practice of ritual widow suicide or murder. (Asia continued this practice into the 20th century with some cases occurring in the present as well.)
In Greece, often held up as a model of democracy, women did not have basic rights, and could own no property nor could they participate directly in the political system.
In both Rome and Greece, women’s very movement in public was limited. There are cultures today where women rarely leave their own homes.
Many cultures and religions justify the oppression of women by attributing sexual power to them, that men must then rigidly control in order to maintain their own purity and power. Reproductive functions — including childbirth and menstruation, sometimes breast-feeding and pregnancy — are seen as disgusting. Thus, in these cultures, women are often required to cover their bodies and faces to keep men, assumed not to be in control of their own sexual actions, from being overpowered.
Women are also treated either like children or like property in many cultures and religions. For example, the punishment for rape in some cultures is that the rapist’s wife is given over to the rape victim’s husband or father to rape as he wishes, as revenge. Or a woman who is involved in adultery or other sex acts outside monogamous marriage is punished more severely than the man who is involved, and a woman’s word about rape is not taken as seriously as a man’s word about being robbed would be.
Women’s status as somehow lesser than men is used to justify men’s power over women.
In Marxism, women’s oppression is a key issue. Engels called the working woman “a slave of a slave,” and his analysis in particular was that oppression of women rose with the rise of a class society, about 6,000 years ago. Engels’ discussion of the development of women’s oppression is primarily in “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” and drew on anthropologist Lewis Morgan and German writer Bachofen. Engels writes of “the world historical defeat of the female sex” when Mother-right was overthrown by males in order to control inheritance of property. Thus, he argued, it was the concept of property that led to women’s oppression.
Critics of this analysis point out that while there is much anthropological evidence for matrilineal descent in primal societies, that does not equate to matriarchy or women’s equality.
In the Marxist view, the oppression of women is a creation of culture.
Cultural oppression of women can take many forms, including shaming and ridiculing women to reinforce their supposed inferior “nature,” or physical abuse, as well as the more commonly acknowledged means of oppression including fewer political, social and economic rights.
In some psychological views, the oppression of women is an outcome of the more aggressive and competitive nature of males due to testosterone levels. Others attribute it to a self-reinforcing cycle where men compete for power and control.
Psychological views are used to justify views that women think differently or less well than men, though such studies don’t hold up to scrutiny.
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Posted: June 19, 2016 at 3:44 am
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