Musings inspired by the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete on ancient Crete, the Goddesses of Crete, Societies of Peace, and the rebirth of the Goddess in contemporary culture, by Carol P. Christ, author of Rebirth of the Goddess.
Making Friends with a Bull: Power Over Nature Reconsidered
Scholars continue to imagine that bull-leaping games in ancient Crete must have been about power over and domination of a very dangerous animal. Watch this video of a woman with her bull friend and weep for their ignorance.
"What seems to me even more significant are the ideas behind bull-leaping: the conception of the bull as an adversary, the need to prove superior human skill, the opposition between man and nature. . . If . . . the idea is that the bull is an adversary to be hunted or outwitted, as I have suggested, then it pertains to a domain which belongs exclusively to the male sphere." Nanno Marinatos, Minonan Religion
"As in Egyptian and Near Eastern bull cults, Minoan bull-leaping gave expression to the tension that underlies man's somewhat tenuous mastery of nature, reaffirmed each time human triumphs over animal. Not coincidentally such cults flourish in societies as they become increasingly stratified, as the affirmation of human prowess serves by analogy as an affirmation of social order." Jeremy McInerney, "Bulls and Bull-leaping in the Minoan World"
Alfred North Whitehead said that in every culture some ideas are so widely assumed that they are not questioned or discussed. In the case of these discussions of bull-leaping by two prominent archaeologists, the assumption that is not articulated and cannot be discussed is not about whether women leapt over the bulls or the purpose of bull-leaping. Rather it is about the nature of "man's" relation to nature."
Both writers "assume" that "man's" relation to nature should be understood using term such as adversary, mastery, triumph, and human superiority. These writers (and their colleagues) assume that the human relation to nature is one of "power over" or domination.
That the purpose of bull-leaping was to affirm "power with" nature in a dance in which humans and bulls are valued for their ability to "move together" is not imagined, because the idea that humans can live "in harmony with" rather than "in domination over" nature is not considered.
When I see images of ancient Cretan bull-leaping, I not only see "power with," I also see mutual respect and shared love for life. The bull does not seem to be an adversary, and he is not conquered. Rather he is an intelligent participant in a game he seems to enjoy playing with the acrobats. Weep for the way our culture has misunderstood bulls.
And most of all weep for our culture's widespread assumption that "nature" is to be dominated.
Carol P. Christ is anticipating the spring Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete where she will again be imagining the sweetness of bulls. Sign up now for the fall pilgrimage for 2014. Carol can be heard on a WATER Teleconference. Carol’s books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.
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