Women: Goddesses, Warriors and Wenches
By: J. Marlando
Women, the other half of the human species, were kept subordinated over most of civilized history. Indeed, while most of them always had their say in the privacy of their own homes, publicly they were second rated in a man's world. Nevertheless, there were always those individual women who excelled regardless of the prejudices against them. Just remember, that even in the United States they were not granted the vote until 1920, the eve of the Jazz Age.
Lots of important changes took place during the 1920s. Hemlines went
Nevertheless, before the rage and romance of the 60s life, for most women, was pretty wretched globally. In Israel during the time of Jesus, for example, it was even looked down on to speak to a woman in public. In early Greek society she was thought important only as a producer of heirs, house-cleaner and not much more than this in ancient Rome. The Middle Ages (500 A.D. through 1500 A.D.) romanticized women while Victorianism (1835 to early 1900s) granted them a new sophistication that produced the dawning of the Southern belle. This is when women began"playing" their femininity to the hilt feigning helplessness and male dependency to simply get their own way. It worked at least until the Civil War when many of those "belles" proved themselves to be ever as hardly and daring as men.
The entire history is of course too long and too complex to even attempt in the space allotted here. However, it seems important to cover the very ancient past because in prehistory into so-called early civilization god was a she and not a he. That is, the world's first image of a deity was that of a female now known as Venus. As you can see by this statuette carved 35,000 years ago.
Females are of course the life-givers in all species, including those living things birthing by parthenogenesis, meaning without male fertilization. This includes some insects, certain snails and at least three species of sharks (the bonnethead, blacktip and zebra shark). There are also self-pollinating plants such as orchids, peas and sunflowers. As a quick aside, the word "parthenogenis" comes from the Greek, parthenos,meaning "virgin" and genesis, meaning "birth."
The reader might also be interested in knowing that many of the early shamans (AKA holy people AKA medicine men) were "medicine woman." Women or even women-like-males called she-men. Homosexuals and transvestites were highly regarded by most early Native Americans because they were thought of as having superb intuitive and healing powers. Only the so-called civilized has condemned and often tortured and/or executed people because of their sexuality.
Obviously I am going to have to pick and choose the women I write about in this article. After all, to cover women's history in detail would take volumes. It is then my intent to select those specific women I find interesting and intriguing including those early Goddesses that were so intrinsic to ancient realities. I hope the reader finds the following to be both entertaining and informative.
As said in the above a woman was the world's first deity. She dates back at least 35.000 years based on carbon dating of her statuette but she probably goes back even before the Stone Age with carvings of her in wood that simply rotted away over time.
Certainly the female deity inspired the first religions of the so-called civilized world and a great many goddess temples were constructed with a great many communities that were matriarchies with kings in secondary positions. This was certainly true on the ancient Isle of Crete, a wonderful example of a goddess worshiping people. And certainly, the major, creator deity was worshiped in places such as Sumer, Babylon, Egypt and China. She was known as the Great Goddess in the land of Canaan. Indeed, she was known throughout the ancient world by names such as Innin,
But by the time of the Athenians, male deities were dominating.
No one knows exactly when the male deity took dominance over the female deity but, according to some authorities, the transition began to take place when Indo-Europeans began invading the Iranian plateaus continuing south into Mesopotamia and Canaan.
If this is so, these invasions (there were many) probably began around 2300 B.C. with the Northerners bringing their religions with them.
What is suspected is that sometime prior to the times of the invasions, the Northerners had made the unexpected discovery that men were essential to impregnating women and thus women were no longer considered magical. As a result, it was suddenly males who had "the productive power." Women began being subordinated and thought of as being mere deliverers of man's creative prowess.
By around 1300 B.C. there were records of Northerner princesses being sent to Egyptian kings to become their wives so royal bloodlines could be established. After all, by this time, priestesses were no longer ruling the temples and so a new pecking order was established. Indeed, the word Par-o, (pharaoh) was applied to kings as opposed to the "royal house" as they were called when women ruled. By this time male superiority was quickly unfolding into the social norm. This was probably around the time that Abraham became the first profit of Judaism and Abraham would eventually become the first profit of Christianity and later Islam.
Goddess worshiping did not simply go away of course: As the historians, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, point out that even after so many centuries of patriarchal Christianity, a Goddess is found at the very center of the church. Indeed, they say that Jesus can only be properly understood alongside the Goddess Sophia. (Incidentally, the term philosophy" means "lover of Sophia").
What is most important here, however, is that Sophia was central to Jewish Gnosticism. The Jewish Liturgists would deny this but there had been a time that, "Israelis worshiped the Goddess Asherah as the consort" of the Jewish God, Jehovah." She was called, Anat Jahu in texts written between the forth and first centuries B.C. (See Proverbs).
Remembering that ancient Christianity was nothing like the Christianity we know today, we ask, how did Jesus evolve into the annals of religious history? Space truly limits us from delving into this question very far so we will returned to Freke and Gandy who tell us. "...in 431 CE a Christian council met at Ephesus. previously the chief site for the worship of the Pagan Goddess, and bestowed the titles of the ousted Goddess upon Mary the mother of Jesus, honoring her as "Queen of Heaven" and Theitikos, 'Mother of God'" Protestant literalists would later condemn this elevation of Mary, but ironically it was actually a demotion. For the original Christians, Mary had always represented the Goddess Sophia, Queen of Heaven."
In modern times goddess worship is considered taboo except for a few cults. In most global cultures woman have been given social and political equality and the stark sexism that once prevailed has gone the way of the horse and buggy. There are exceptions of course. As we are all aware Islam continues to subordinate women as being beneath male superiority; even soulless. With this in mind perhaps in our tomorrows to come, we will all acknowledge a merger of the feminine and masculine and, at long last, create a better, safer, happier and more loving world?
When we think of warriors we typically think of males. In the U.S. it has been too soon forgotten that those brave, pioneering women who traveled west with their husbands fought beside them and shared the same challenges and hardships as they adventured west together. This is also true of many women during the Civil War. (In their book "They Fought Like Demons: Women soldiers in the Civil War," Deanne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook document 250 women who served as soldiers).
One such heroic woman was Loretta Valaques
fighting after her husband was killed in front of her at the Battle of Murfreesboro.
One cannot speak of heroic ladies during the Civil war without mentioning Harriet Tubman.
She was born around 1820 to slave parents in Maryland. Then in the fall of 1849, she escaped into Philadelphia. Being free herself was not enough for her though and so she returned to Maryland to rescue her family and lead them to freedom. She did this by leading one small group at a time until her entire family was safe. Then, at great risk to herself, she began guiding other escaping slaves to freedom, taking some all the way to Canada. Indeed, her nickname became "Moses" and she was known for never having lost a "passenger." (Had she been caught she would surely have been flogged to death, shot or hanged).
When the country erupted into civil war Tubman joined the Union and worked as both a nurse and a cook. But that would not do for a woman of such apparent spirit. Soon enough she was working as an armed spy and became the very first American woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. She was at the lead of the Combahee River Raid that succeeded in freeing 750 slaves from South Carolina.
After the war and in later years Harriet gave devoted care to her ageing parents but, at the same time, took an active role in New York's women's suffrage movement. And, along her way, she was also a founder of an "old folks" home for African Americans. Later, when she became too ill to care for herself, she would spend the rest of her days at that care center. She passed March 10, 1913.
Speaking of brave, determined women, during World War II, Nancy Wake became a guerrilla fighter and spy
Life looked very promising for Nancy but the world seems to turn in unexpected directions and quite suddenly German soldiers were pouring into France.
Shortly after the German invasion she joined the French resistance and helped to smuggle men out of France while also smuggling contraband and falsifying documents. In 1943 Nancy endured being captured and interrogated by Nazis' who were unable to break her. (We can only imagine what she went through). After release, she remained a strong suspect and soon enough became a target of Nazi pursuit. But even with Nazis on her trail she managed to escape to Great Britain.
We would expect this to end her direct involvement in wartime France and take her opportunity to rebuild some normalcy in her life but she didn't. She immediately joined the SOE (British intelligence Group) and began training with weapons as well as jumping out of airplanes as a parachutist.
As soon as she completed her training she was airdropped back into France where she shot Nazis' and blew up buildings with the French resistance group Indeed she once killed a SS sentry with her bare hands.
After the war the British awarded her with the George medal and the United States gave her the prestigious Medal of Freedom and the Croix de Guerre from France. There were other awards and honors for her heroism. After the war she received the tragic news that her husband died back in 1943 when the Nazis tortured him to find out her whereabouts. He had died keeping her secret.
With life returned to normal, she remarried in 1950. This gallant lady died on August 7, 2011 at age 98.
There have always been proud and daring female warriors. Going back to antiquity I am compelled to mention Boudicca
For many years the Roman invaders and the local tribes maintained a peaceful alliance And, in order to keep that peace, when Boudicca's husband, King Prasutagus died in A.D. 60, he willed half his wealth and property to Rome. The thought was that the jester would convince the Roman authority that the Iceni and surrounding tribes were not hostile and would continue a friendly alliance. This was when Nero reigned in Rome and Nero wanted the entire wealth of Iceni territory. And so, because of Nero's greed, he sent Roman warriors ridding in making their demands.
The queen, Boudicca, protested and so the soldiers flogged her and raped her two daughters. This erupted an anger rage in Queen Boudicca and she immediately took command of her Iceni troops, made a pact with Trinovante Celts from the south and formed an army of female and male soldiers. As soon as the army was formed, they charged forward to set things right.
She sacked Verulamium (St. Albans) twenty miles to the north, then moved on to Londinium where she virtually butchered the entire population. Boudicca proved herself to be a gallant warrior but eventually the Romans proved to be too many and too strong and in the end she poisoned herself to escape them. Nevertheless, When we think of this daring queen, riding the charge, sword in hand with her long red hair, flowing in the wind while taking her place in honorable history, we can only admire her true grit.
Heroic women can be found throughout history and many of their stories remain untold. Nevertheless, bravery has never only been a male commodity. But of course, real true grit has no gender!
The term "wench" refers to a woman who serves drinks in a tavern which is an honorable profession. However, the term can also apply to a mistress, a prostitute or, if you will, a woman of suspect morality and few ethics. For those who are interested the word goes back to old English of the 12th and 13th century. Actually the early roots of the word probably referred to a child beginning to walk. The word in German was "wankein" which means "to totter." Around the 15th century wench merely referred to common women and a playboy of those times might go out "wenching." Soon enough the term was applied to female servants and finally to promiscuous women and prostitutes.
Fannie became a prostitute in San Antonio, Texas at age16. A vivacious and ambitious girl it is said that she was running her own brothel by the time she was 20. (For anyone living in San Antonio, Fannie's "house" stood at the corner of Durango and South San Saba). This was in the late 1800s and very early 1900s.
She was well known for running a "classy joint" even serving Champagne to her special customers; the beds were covered with silk sheets and her "girls" were very enticing with most being between 19 and 24 years old. And, the law was willing to turn a blind eye to what was going on in her "boarding house" with men going in and out during all hours of the day and night. It was here that the fun-loving and alluring Etta Place
That's right, around the ending of the 1800s, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid
Fannie did not cater to the law and in fact was known, according to some reports, that she would chase lawmen out of her place with a broom. Nevertheless, it seems she cooperated with Bill Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkertons, when he came to interview her about the Wild Bunch. She no doubt told him what she wanted him to know but she liked Bill and probably cooperated with him more than she had ever cooperated with any other law enforcer.
No one seems to know what happened to Fanny. Some say she died in a car crash after automobiles were popularized but that is mere hearsay. In fact, maybe she married, settled down and raised a family...Hmmm, that's probably pretty doubtful. In any case, I thought the reader might enjoy seeing Butch, Sundance and the lovely Etta Place from the classic feature made in 1969 starring Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman), Sundance (Robert Redford) and Etta (Katherine Ross).
Prostitutes were typically plentiful in the old west. Fist of all there was a shortage of females in most of the small towns that dotted the west but also red-light districts were thought of as evil but necessary. Indeed, many city consensuses included the town's prostitutes right alongside carpenters, housewives, stone masons and other professions.
According to Gail Schontzler, staff writer for Today's Chronicle in Bozeman, Montana, back in the 1800s, this quaint and homespun community once supported quite a red-light district, started by one Louisa Couselle, a successful madam from Helena's gold rush days. This, the talented reporter tells us, was in the 1870s when Bozeman was still a "Wild West hamlet." Evidently Louisa helped establish other madams to expand her growing district of local brothels. There are no photographs of the famous madam but one of the women she helped to open her own place included Josephine (Chicago Joe) Hersley as seen here.
Brothels were not exclusive to the west: During 1866, the Superintendent of Police reported knowing of at least 621 "houses" in New York City. And, as early as 1852 there were 7,000 lady's of the Night known to work in Cincinnati. Around this same time there were 50,000 known prostitutes in London and America's San Francisco had at least 25,000 "working girls" during the great gold rush days. During the early 1800s, however, the most luxurious brothel in the world was in Amsterdam, called "The Fountain." According to the historian Reay Tannahill, the place not only had private rooms, but also a restaurant, dance hall, cafe and a billiard room. And so, when we think about all this, is it any wonder that we're told, prostitution is the oldest profession on the planet?
Interestingly enough, prostitution was not the only sensual profession. Turning again to historian Tannahill, in especially New Orleans back around the 1850s, "French, Spanish, American, and mulatto blood ran in the veins of most girls who had been trained, almost from infancy, to become not wives, not mothers, not prostitutes, but mistresses."
Going back a few thousand years there were the Temple prostitutes. Along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers there were many temples devoted to different deities. Inside, the prostitutes were available to have "sacred sex" with male visitors. In fact, in old Babylon every woman was compelled to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and, at least once, have sex with a stranger as a religious rite. Today most of us would find this appalling but having temple sex was a cultural more at the time.
Speaking of antiquity, in the 1700s, a famous mistress is Lady Caroline (Pomsonby) Lamb.
Little Lady Caroline was raised by the third Earl of Bessborough and her mother Harriet; two individuals who should never have been married, at least to each other. As a result Caroline was raised in a house of turmoil and given very little attention. Mom was just too tied up with her own self-indulgences. And so, Caroline became a spoiled little child, who demanded things to go her way. And, in order to get her way she'd throw tantrums, screaming and kicking until she obtained what she wanted.
Then at age thirteen she became devoutly religious being confirmed at Westminster Abbey. Nevertheless, she maintained a wild, imposing streak making herself the constant center of attention, sometimes dressing in boy's clothing, riding, wildly on horseback and being wild and impetuous Then, in other moods, she'd wear flowing gown and become beautifully feminine. At age twenty, she married William Lamb.
William adored her and soon enough Caroline was pregnant. She would in fact have four pregnancy with three of infants stillborn and only one, a boy, born mentally retarded.
She was obviously unhappy and adding to her depression was the sudden lack of attention her husband was giving her. According to the history books he had been disappointed by her frigidity and lack of sexual responsiveness. Indeed, they had reached a point in their relationship when William didn't care what Caroline did...or who she did it with. Thus, as writer, Elizabeth Abbot tells us, "so began one of their centuries most scandalous love affairs. The married, Lady Caroline, had an affair with the rather notorious, romantic poet, Lord Brian.
It is no wonder she became enamored with him; he was dashingly good looking and famous at age twenty-four. He had one unhappy challenge, however, a club foot. Nevertheless, after a time Caroline would say that he was "mad, bad and dangerous to know." Yet, he asked her to stop dancing because he could not dance and he could not stand seeing her in the arms of other men. (Incidentally, husband William Lamb knew about the affair and didn't seem to care. Because of this Caroline and Bryan appeared together in public and they were often invited to parties as a couple).
But then, after only a few months Bryan tired of her, she had become too brazen and unpredictable for his liking. When he grew cold, Caroline responded with irrational actions, once cutting her own throat with a razor. When that didn't work, she dressed a group of maidens in white and while they sang an enchanting poem, she burned Byron in effigy. When that didn't get the response she wanted she swore to burn herself but thankfully never went that far. Nevertheless, she was not a woman who was used to getting exactly what she wanted. And she wanted Lord Byron.
In fact, she is most remembered as Lord Byron's mistress while Lord Byron, thinking her too rash and uninhibited managed to escape the relationship. In the end, he died in 1824 leading Greek revolutionaries in their fight for independence against the Turks.
What seems to be most apparent about Lady Caroline Lamb is that she was neurotically, self-serving and although she outgrew her wretched, unhappy childhood, she never grew passed it.
Jumping ahead to the 1900s, Virginia Hill
At last feeling free from her father's brutality; he was a man that never "spared the rod," she found work as a waitress at San Carlo''s Italian Village, a place with fancy restaurants owned by Al Capone and patronized by gangsters. By then Capone was in control of Chicago's underworld and had been since the Saint Valentine Day's massacre. Young Virginia Hill was excited by "the life" and soon enough she was dating Joey Epstein, a "book" that handled the racetrack betting.
Epstein took an immediate liking to her. Well, she was a girl with lots of confidence and beautiful. For that Matter, Mimi, Al Capone's sister-in-law, also befriended her and would often invite Virginia to parties. What might have confused Virginia, however, was that Epstein never "came on to her" himself but encouraged her to sleep with other gangsters. (There had been whispers about his being homosexual). What he did do for her, however, is to recruit her into his money laundering processes and she became known as being trust worthy by the mob.
Her fidelity and ability did not go unrewarded, Epstein put her into an expensive apartment and gave her an allowance of three thousand a week. That was a lot of money in the 1930s. But Virginia was tough and the mob admired that. In fact, she came to be called, "Chicago's Queen of the Mob." By then Virginia was going with Joey Adonis, a New York tough guy who controlled gaming and the numbers racket on the east coast. He had been in Chicago for a "sit down" to create an alliance between Capone's operations and the New York Mafia. When the meetings were over, Virginia packed up and went to New York to become known as Joey's girl. But then, one night, Joey and Virginia went out to a bar, and there she met Bugsy Siegel.
Bugsy wanted her to "slap Joey Adonis in the face." He hated the man. But once Virginia was in his arms, he was in her heart as well. Indeed, this was the first real, emotional attachment she had with a man. And, being only in her mid-twenties, she had become the mob's most powerful and trusted female. And, according to Elizabeth Abbott, no other woman had achieved such "raw power" and that power stretched from New York, to Chicago and all the way to Los Angeles.
While in Los Angeles, in 1939, Bugsy went to a party at George Raft's mansion. It was there that Virginia and Bugsy became a couple. And what a life they were having...they were not only having fantastic sexual encounters but doing business at the same time. They were also socializing elbows with movie legends such as Gary Cooper
Although both Virginia and Bugsy had affairs they stayed together for five years fighting, loving and driving one another a little crazy. During that time Bugsy began his plan to build a luxury hotel which he would name Flamingo, Virginia's nickname. But Virginia wanted nothing to do with it. She flew back to New York and rekindled her love affair with Joey Adonis. Bugsy was persistent, however, and won her back. For one thing, because of the name of the hotel, she saw it as a monument to herself.
The hotel's grand opening was a disaster and costly. The lack of confidence in Bugsy and his constant tapping into the till, made the mob decide that it was "time for Bugsy to go away" and he was assassinated in 1947. By then there was also mistrust for Virginia, however, and she too came within a hair of being on the mafia's hit list. Joey Adonis, still attached to her, intervened and saved her life.
By then Virginia was extremely depressed. The law had attempted to get her to talk about Bugsy's murder. She never did although she knew far more than she pretended. Then, In 1950, she married an Austrian sky instructor, Hans Houser, suspected of being a Nazi sympathizer. Their son Peter was born in 1951. This was the year that she was summoned to testify before the Kefauver Commission on organized crime. She simply lied to her interrogators. Nevertheless, she was charged with tax evasion and the government took most of everything she owned. The authorities obviously had set out to take her down. So, in metaphor, down she went!
She returned to living in Europe with her husband trying to resume normal life but the law, still wanting to break her, put up wanted posters of her and that ruined her life, even in Europe. As it turned out, she ended up living in a cheap rooming house with her son Peter. She and Hans had obviously ended their marriage.
Along her way, she did mange to get some cash from her old friend and lover, Joey Adonis but, in any case, she was soon to become a victim of a mob hit. She simply knew too much and was considered emotionally unstable by then; a person who might talk. And so, her assassins drove her to an isolated place in the country, forced sleeping pills down her throat and left her there to die.
After all, she had been through, the men, the money the high life, she had ended up in stark poverty and emotional despair; a body empty of life left, most virtually, on the side of a country road; a discarded memory.
Here's a shot from the movie. Warren Beatty as Bugsy and Annette Bening as Virginia Hill.
The lives of mistresses seldom end in joy or celebration. The famous movie star, Gloria Swanson
She was not the business mogul she thought she was, however. Soon enough her extravagant life style and business were enduring heavy financial problems. As a result Joe Kennedy was called in to turn the production company around. Gloria became his mistress. Once dear old
Good old Joe flooded Gloria with lavish gifts for which she was always so pleased. He failed to remind her, however, that it was her company money that was paying for them. Soon enough Joe walked away from the relationship with Gloria being left in the depths of depression and financial trouble.
A half century after the breakup Gloria wrote about her affair with Joe Kennedy and talked about how she was his trophy woman who he loved to prance around in front of his friends, associates and even...his wife.
And speaking of the Kennedy clan, President Jack Kennedy's
How it all came about is that JFK's brother-in-law was movie star, Peter Lawford, so he'd get "good old Pete" to fix him up with sexy starlets. Soon enough Marylyn Monroe was targeted by Jack Kennedy and because the president used little discretion his affair became well known. A shock at the time since most Americans remained naive about the private life of their "representatives," believing them to be outstanding human beings.
Most everyone knows the tragic ending of Marylyn Monroe. It is suspected that she died of a lethal overdose of barbiturates...either accidentally or intentionally by some unknown assailant.
Beautiful Judith Campbell
Giancana incidentally was a Mafia hit man, a friend of Frank Sinatra who introduced him to Judith as Sam Flood. (It seems, however, that JFK was jealous of her relationship with Sinatra. In any case, she got pregnant with the President's baby and Jack suggested if she didn't want it, to see Sam Giancana to arrange an abortion. The abortions was performs at Grand Hospital in January of 1963, The relationship did not last after that.
The tales of mistresses go on and on. When it comes to presidents, however, we must not overlook Bill Clinton
Bill after all, was a darned good president (as presidents go) and, beyond all else, he kept us laughing!
So there you have it Gods, Warriors and Wenches. The history of women is often as extraordinary and filled with adventure as those select men who rose above the rest during the ups and downs of their lives.
In regard to the above Elizabeth Blackwell
Only three years later, Harriet Beecher Stowe
When we think of great women we dare not leave out Margaret Thatcher
And speaking of history, Sally Ride
Reverences and Additional Reading
Abbott, Elizabeth * Mistresses + Overlook
Freke, Timothy and Gandy, Peter * Jesus and the Lost Goddess * ThreeRiver Press
Grant, Robert and Freeman, Noel, David * The Secret Sayings of Jesus *Barnes & Nobles
Kimball-Davis, Jeannine (with
Mona Beham) * Warrior Women * Warner Books
Mead, G.R.S. * Pistis Sophia * ThreeRiver Press
Tannahill, Reay * Sex in History * Stein & Day
Stone, Merlin * When God Was a Woman * Barnes & Noble
Lunardini, Christine * What Every American Should Know About Women's History * Adams Media Corporation
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a great addition to your library.
Amazon Price: $23.95 $5.74 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 14, 2016)