Examples of matrilineal inheritance and what this means.
During the Neolithic age, the matrilineal clan system and the rule mother-right were followed everywhere.
Early writings from Egypt for instance depict the woman in complete control of herself and her home, with property descending from mother to daughter. During the change from matriarchies to men ruled systems (starting circa 2000 BC) for many centuries, patriarchal marriages in Egypt existed side by side with old-style matriarchal unions, initiated by the wife and terminated by her will alone. Since daughters, not sons, inherited property, it was the duty of an Egyptian daughter (not son) to care for aged parents.
In Greece, a parcel of property was temenos, "land belonging to the moon," i.e., to woman. In ancient times however, every matriarch's hearth was a temple of the Goddess. The population and land unit in Attica was a demos, derived from De - that is, the Goddess De-Mother, or Demeter.
The most significant revolution in Greece was the transition from matrilineal to patrilineal succession and the resulting destruction of clan loyalties.
In many other areas, the matrilineal system survived to a late date, circa 100 peoples in all continents besides Europe kept it until the present time.
Matrilineal inheritance was the rule among British and the other Old European tribes until coming of Christianity. The Picts inherited all property, even "kingdoms," through the female line. (The highest priestess or priestess-queen nominated the king.) With the coming of Christianity, old laws of mother-right began to decline.
The English "heir" came from heres, cognate with the Greek word for a female landowner, here or "Hera." (The Magna Carta referred to a here as person of either sex. Later church laws listed heres as exclusively male.)
Among pagan Celts, men bequeathed nothing to their children; their possessions were inherited by their sisters or their sisters' children.
According to old laws of Burgundy and Thuringia, property passed only in the female line.
In pre-Roman Latium a landholding was called latifundia, founded by the Goddess Lat, after whom the country was named; thus each parcel of land belonged originally to a matriarch. Even in the later Roman empire, husbands had no legal claim on their wives' land or possessions as long as the wife was careful to spend three consecutive nights each year away from home. This was a remnant of an earlier custom like that of pre-Islamic Arabs, whereby a wife divorced her husband by shutting him out of the home for three consecutive nights.
Chieftains ruled only through marriage with the resident matriarch. Harking back to this same system in India, the Mahabharata says the leading attributes of a queen were high intelligence, sacred knowledge, and property.
In most ancient societies, young men went forth from their maternal homes either to the neighbor clan or to seek their fortune elsewhere, because their sisters inherited the family home.
It was a fixed habit of Greek men, and also of the pagan heroes depicted in fairy tales, to leave home and seek a matrilocal marriage with an heiress in a distant land. Remember the fairy tales of your childhood? That's why women are still waiting for "the prince on a white horse". But today's women are deprived - no land, no prince, right?
"Matrimony" used to mean the feminine equivalent of "patrimony": inheritance of property, in the maternal line. Matrimony came to be synonymous with marriage only because marriage was a way for men to gain control of property.
In matriarchies, women owned the land, governed the communities, and took the initiative in love affairs.
This system harks back to prehistoric times when only the obvious relationship between mother and child was recognized, but not the less apparent relationship between father and child. Although, later the father-child relationship never became important because the social fatherhood between men and their nieces and nephews counted always higher. Blood relation is an important economic principle in matriarchies. (Blood relation not sperm relation!)
Male scholars have been reluctant to describe ancient systems of matrilineal inheritance. After translation of early Babylonian texts, W. Boscawen wrote,
"The freedom granted to women in Babylonia allowed them to hold and manage their own estates.... The mother here is always represented by a sign which means "goddess of the house."
The implication was that women held their property only through men's lenience, which was not the case. Women held property by the ironclad law of mother-right, and a Babylonian wife had the same title as a matriarch in India, grhadevata, "House-Goddess."
Even Mohammed, a leading opponent of matriarchal principles and founder of one of the violent patriarchal religions, was enabled to carry out his mission thanks only to the wealth which he acquired from his first wife Khadija, who was engaged in lucrative traffic and owned landed estates.
Why did women own all land?
Landed property developed in the hands of women because women were the first to farm the land, thereby establishing ownership of it. Our ancestors and also today's indigenous people know that only the life-magic inherent in women will make things grow: Women know how to bring forth, and how to make the seed bring forth. Women are committed to life, naturally.
Farming women (part of the Egyptian "Death Papyrus of Ani" around 1300 B.C., British Museum, London)
Amerindians universally attributed the invention of agriculture to women, sole owners of the cultivated fields. Matrilocal marriage and matrilineal ownership of the home place were customary among the Algonquin, Sioux, Seneca, Pawnee, Seminole, Kiowa, and Cree tribes.
Biological fathers were "strangers" in the clan. Women were "mistresses of the soil."
The women were the great power among the clans as everywhere else.... The original nomination of the chiefs always rested with them. When the Iroquois conveyed lands to the U.S. government, documents had to be marked by their women, because the marks of men had no validity among the tribes.
In Africa, women owned the land and other property connected with the home place, and transmitted ownership to their daughters or "their brothers" daughters. European governments and missions in Africa loosed a torrent of propaganda against matrilineal customs among the natives. In most African nations, European land reforms consisted of taking land away from the women and allocating it to their husbands. This tended to make the women paupers and destroy their self-respect, as the tribes looked down on a woman who couldn't support her children.
As a result up to today tens of thousands of people, especially children, starve in the so called 3rd World Countries every year.
By the way: in present matriarchies nobody starves! For example in the poor country of Mexico remained the state of Oaxaca, well known for their proud and strong women, especially in the city of Juchit?n, who own the land, the money and run the marketplace, no child is underfed!
In extensive contrast to the rest of the country ruled by men only.
Religion as an instrument to deprive women and make them dependant
Patriarchal religious authorities everywhere changed ancient systems of matrilineal inheritance to put property in the hands of men. Medieval Christian kings commonly endowed their barons with the phrase, "Take that woman and her fief." The early centuries of the Christian conquest of Europe were largely occupied with acquisition lands from the pagan women.
The Bible contains traces of former matrilineal inheritance and matrilocal marriage, e.g.,
- a man shall "leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife" (Genesis 2:24).
- Naomi told her daughters-in-law to "return each to her mother's house" (Ruth 1:8) because houses were owned by mothers, not fathers.
- A marriage agreement permitting removal of a woman from her maternal home was a violation of ancient laws. Therefore Abraham, seeking a bride for his son, had to give many gifts to the bride, to her mother, and to her brother (not to her father!) as compensation for taking her away from her home (Genesis 24:53).
Retention of property in the hands of a patrilineal clan was the purpose of the so-called Levirate marriage commanded by the patriarchal God (Deuteronomy 25:5). If a man died, his brother must marry the widow rather than allow her to take her property and depart from the family. This rule dated from an early era when nomadic Israelites began to acquire lands and possessions by intermarrying with pagan women of Canaan, Moab, Phoenicia, etc.
Modern laws play the same trick on women. If a husband and wife die together in an accident, it is assumed that the wife dies first, so the man's family will inherit.
People who maintained the matrilocal marriage tradition, like the American Indians, developed no wedding laments, mock battles, pseudo-kidnappings, or displays of coyness.
But in patrilocal marriages, bride's relatives usually put on a show of resistance.
Matrilocal marriage appeared in the Norse myth of Ragnar Lodbrok (Leatherbreeches), who married a foreign warrior-princess, but could not induce her to leave her own country. When he wished to return to his homeland, he was forced to leave her behind.
Still the peripatetic gypsies had matrilocal marriage traditions. In gypsy folklore, heroines never left their maternal homes. After death they were buried under the family threshold - a custom of the early Hindus, the gypsies' matriarchal forebears.
The aim of European Christianity was acquisition of property, which meant overturning pagan systems of matrilineal inheritance. By forcible seizure and warfare, the church managed to acquire fully a third of all the landed property on the continent by the early Middle Ages. The rest was more difficult. In some parts of Europe up to 1200 A.D. women were still listed as the landowners, and men identified themselves by their mothers' clan names.
Until the 10th century, priests married to gain property, claiming that without their wives they succumb to "hunger and nakedness." Church laws revised the system; then a series of papal decretals between 1031 and 1051 ordered priests to abandon their wives and sell their children into slavery. Naturally, the property and monies thus acquired by a priest revert to the church upon his death, since he no longer had legal heirs.
The legal/ecclesiastical war on female property ownership went on century after century, until women were so hamstrung by the laws of patriarchal God and man that they had almost nothing left that they could call their own.
By the end of the 19th century, English wives could not administer their own property even if they had any, nor make a will disposing of it, without their husbands' consent.
As late as 1930 in France and 1950 in Germany a woman was forbidden to do any business with a bank, not make small deposits, without her husband's permission.
Up to the present time, lack of control over money and property is still the greatest obstacle for women who wish to bring up their children respectably or take them and leave abusive or violent husbands. In this respect the centuries of patriarchal effort achieved their goal.
"The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets", Barbara G. Walker.
[I added some facts and explanations. HV]