May 15

Keepers of the Mysteries

Researchers amazed to find women doing what they have done through out history!

OK, that may be a little tongue-in-cheek.

The linked article explains how women are the keepers of folk religion all over the world and gives as example Santa Muerte, Spiritism, and rural Chinese polytheism. This is often in the ace of either governmental, societal, or ecclesiastic objections.

However, this has been the case for most of human history. For good or ill women have a unique position in any community that allows them to perform this function. First, women are typically not the public face of the family. While the man must conform to societal expectations, the expectations on women are typically within the context of the family and without a large public breach of those expectations, they can get away with beliefs and behavior that would be condemned in men. This was true during the first century of the Christian church. Greco-roman men had to be concerned with their honor, essentially their public personas. A component of honor was participation in the the religious life of the city. Women, however, had no such requirements and thus had a greater degree of religious freedom than the men and thus why the majority of Christianity was likely female for the first few hundred years of the faith.

Second, women have traditionally been the keepers of children. This means they are the ones that pass on stories and values to the next generation. In many cultures the only real education beyond vocational training a person receives is from a female caregiver. That gives women enormous power to shape the perceptions of their society. As the males go off to work in the outside world, the female children continue to have strong ties to their female relatives and continue to be educated in their traditions.

Folk religions often have an adaptability that institutional ones lack. Thus they can be made to fit, at least in the eyes of their adherents, into the context of major religions; although as the article points out they are not always accepted by the authorities in those faiths. In reality, a lot of what passes for doctrine in the institutional religions was once folk religion that got incorporated. (You can read a book about some of that.) We just do not like to admit it.

Women have always been the ones who have protected and nurtured faith. Especially when the faith is either small or unpopular. Certainly growing up in little Baptist churches the majority of people sitting on the pews were women, and most of the work got done because they did it. This was in spite of the fact they were seen as something of second class Christians, not allowed to hold "authority" over men.

But the one who teaches the children controls the future.

Why anyone should be surprised about that is beyond me.

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