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This is an index of the chapters in the novel which contain substantial claims about history. Those chapters which contain only action scenes or plot elements have been ommited.

Each chapter is sub-divided into topic headings analysing the claims made in that section of the novel and their associated subjects.


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CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Matriarchal Paganism

God and Goddesses in 'Paganism'

Stone Age Matriarchal Religion

The Matriarchal Myth

Women and Religion in Ancient Society

The Inquisition, Witches and the Malleus Maleficarum

The Witch Craze: Protestant or Catholic?

Who Were the Accused?

The Myth of the Midwife Witch

The Witch Craze Holocaust

Women, Paganism and the 'Hieros Gamos'

Left Brain, Right Brian and the 'Sacred Feminine'

Matriarchal Paganism

"Sophie," Langdon said, "the Priory's tradition of perpetuating goddess-worship is based on a belief that powerful men in the early Christian Church 'conned' the world by propagating lies that devalued the feminine and tipped the scales in favour of the masculine."
Sophie remained silent, staring at the words.
"The Priory believes that Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever."

(Chapter Twenty-eight, p. 124)

Leaving aside the fact that 'the Priory' is a modern hoax, the idea that it supposedly had a 'tradition of perpetuating goddess-worship' is entirely out of keeping with even the claims Pierre Plantard made about his fictional 'secret society'. Plantard never claimed that the 'Priory' preserved a 'sacred bloodline' stretching back to Jesus and Mary Magdalene - that was added to the Priory Myth by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. And those authors, in turn, never claimed this 'sacred bloodline' had anything to do with ancient 'goddess-worship' - that, in turn, was added by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, authors of The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ; a work which took the whole 'Priory'/Jesus/Mary myth to new levels.

Contrary to what Brown has Langdon claim above, the 'Priory' invented by Plantard seems to have been far from any feminist, 'goddess'-worshipping cabal of pagan New Agers. As a vehement anti-Semite, arch-conservative and monarchist, Plantard's crazy ambitions seem to have been aimed at some form of traditionalist, royal takeover of France and/or Europe, with himself as absolute monarch. There was little in this man's background or beliefs to indicate any great reverence for women.

So much for the so-called 'Priory' as a group of egalitarian 'goddess'-worshippers devoted to the 'sacred feminine'.

There are further problems with the idea that the Roman Emperor Constantine 'successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity'. The idea that 'paganism' was 'matriarchal' or even highly disposed to egalitarianism and women before Constantine's time is simply not supported by the evidence.

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Gods and Goddesses in 'Paganism'

To begin with, to talk about pre-Christian 'paganism' as though it was one single thing or set of beliefs is highly problematic. It is hard enough to speak in general terms about 'Christianity' because, despite the fact that it is a single religion, it is made up a vast variety of separate denominations, divisions, cults and sects as diverse and widely separated as Catholicism is from Mormonism.

Generalising about 'paganism', however, is difficult to the point of being utterly impossible. Pre-Christian beliefs were not one religion, but a vast and bewildering variety of them. They were not discrete, separate and exclusive (on the whole) but allowed someone to believe in other cults and devotions, all of them or none of them as they saw fit. A devotee of Isis could attend a sacrifice to Capitoline Jupiter without any problem. A woman could be as devoted to Apollo as she was to Demeter. Someone could pray to Neptune before a sea voyage while having a special personal devotion to Mithras. Gods could and did drift, shift and evolve in their attributes, names and images. 'Foreign' and exotic gods could suddenly rise in popularity while ancient cults could dwindle and disappear. So to call this mass of possible, interchangeable and potentially mutual beliefs 'paganism' and to pretend it had any clearly defined common attributes - eg a 'matriarchal' nature - is totally impossible.

Furthermore, to pretend that these pagan cults were 'matriarchal' or even generally more in tune with the 'sacred feminine' is a complete misreading of ancient religion and society. There is no doubt that there were goddesses as well as gods. There is also no doubt that some of these goddesses had powerful and popular cults. But this is a function of the nature of pre-Christian polytheistic religion. The sacred world was a reflection of the human world. Just as there were human functions, attributes and concerns that were considered more 'feminine' in nature, so there were goddesses that reflected these. Thus the deity of love, sex and beauty was a goddess, while the deity of war, conquest and violence was a god. This principle applied to every tiny detail of pre-Christian life, with deities, demi-deities and spirits devoted to particular trades and enterprises, certain cities and locations, individual groves, rivers and crossroads or even particular houses and households.

Where Brown's statements fall down is in the idea that the fact that ancient pre-Christian polytheistic paganism had goddesses as well as gods meant that these societies were more egalitarian, 'matriarchal' and in tune with 'the sacred feminine'.

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Stone Age Matriarchal Religion

These ideas are highly attractive to modern thinking. As a society striving for egalitarianism and gender-equality, the concept of a time, long ago, where men and women were as equal in society as gods and goddesses, supposedly, were in religion is highly appealing to us. For some modern feminists the further idea that goddesses were once dominant and that society was once - in distant prehistory - actually matriarchal and dominated by women is even more appealing. This idea has become a mainstay of some modern feminist theory and has, via the New Age movement, come to be widely accepted. It is, however, not well supported by evidence.

The concept of an ancient, prehistoric, late Stone Age matriarchal society has a strange history in modern religious studies. Initially, this concept was suggested by male, Nineteenth Century theorists, who believed that religion 'progressed' in keeping with Nineteenth Century ideas of 'development'. It made sense to them, therefore, that the earliest forms of religion were 'inferior' and 'undeveloped' and so it had to be that they were originally female-oriented and devoted to 'fertility goddesses'. As religion 'developed' and improved, they argued, it 'progressed' through ancient polytheism, with gods and goddesses, to monotheism, with a dominant and exclusive male god to a more a 'modern', 'developed' and 'reasonable' conception of God as gender-neutral.

Looking at the archaeological evidence from the late Stone Age - the Neolithic Period - these male researchers found 'evidence' of this evolution. Female figures found at Neolithic sites were interpreted as 'goddesses'. The ones that were fat and/or pregnant in their depictions were obviously 'fertility goddesses'. All this was interpreted as evidence that, at this early stage in the 'development' and 'progression' of religious evolution, religion was female-oriented and 'matriarchal' by merit of its 'primitive' nature.

This idea of an inferior and undeveloped matriarchal/goddess-oriented Neolithic religion was then taken up by feminist researchers and theorists in the 1960s and 70s. In their interpretation, this religion was not an 'undeveloped' or primitive set of ideas, but ones that represented a pure golden age, where women ruled society, the genders lived in harmony, war was unknown and people - male and female - devoted themselves to the 'sacred feminine'. According to this reading of the Neolithic evidence, this perfect matriarchal, sacred and entirely feminist society was shattered forever by the arrival of warlike, 'sky-god'-worshipping, patriarchal invaders from the Russian steppes at the beginning of the Bronze Age. These violent and greedy interlopers destroyed the perfect, peaceful matriarchal Neolithic society, imposed their gods and ushered in thousands of years of male oppression, exploitation and war.

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The Matriarchal Myth

This interpretation of prehistory has now become unquestioned orthodoxy in some branches of feminist theory and has, from there, spread into other disciplines and the general consciousness. As a reaction to the male-dominated elements of much traditional Western religion, the idea of an ancient, matriarchal 'Goddess' who once united all people in peace, unity and tranquility is highly empowering and appealing. New Age bookshops have shelves of books on 'the Goddess' and many modern religions like Wicca and other forms of Neo-Paganism are devoted to this idea and its implications.

Some modern feminists, however, are familiar enough with the actual evidence and the history of how this modern set of ideas arose to know that it is based on very shaky evidential foundations.

The rethinking of this whole idea within feminism is best summarised in The Myth of Matriarchal Patriarchy: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future by Cynthia Eller. A feminist and academic specialising in women and religion, Eller examines the origin of the modern myth of the 'Neolithic Matriarchy' and the evidence on which it is based. She finds this concept deeply flawed and based on uncertain and misinterpreted evidence and presumed conclusions, largely driven by ideology.

As Eller and many recent prehistoric specialists make clear, any conclusions about Neolithic and Bronze Age religion are always going to be highly speculative. Given that we have no written sources or any other clear sources of information; we are left with archaeological artefacts. The interpretation of artefacts to form conclusions about something as ephemeral as religious ideas is about as uncertain as one can get and it is something archaeologists tend to avoid.

Eller, however, surveys the evidence and compares it to the statements made by feminists who believe in the idea of Neolithic Matriarchy. She points out that the heavy emphasis on female figures found in Neolithic sites is unfounded. There is an assumption that these carvings are 'goddesses' or 'figures of the Goddess'. We actually have no idea what they are. Few are found in any kind of religious context (ie a temple, sacred space or associated with offerings) and they could just as easily be other things - art, childrens' toys, portraits, doodles, medical votive figures or even Stone Age pornography. Eller also points out that while there are many Neolithic artistic depictions of humans which are clearly female; there are many others which are clearly male. And, more importantly, there are many more which have no clear gender attribution at all. To focus on the clearly female figures, ignore the others and then assume a 'Goddess'-focused, matriarchal society is to argue from highly selective and uncertain evidence.

There are other problems with the standard theory of 'Matriarchal Feminism'. It is often claimed that there is no evidence of war in these supposedly idyllic Neolithic societies. The problem with this assumption is that war rarely leaves much of a trace in any archaeological record, especially in a period where weaponry would usually be made of perishable substances rather than metal (eg war clubs) and where offensive weapons doubled as or can be mistaken for hunting weapons (eg flint arrow heads and spears). Despite this, there is clear evidence of conflict and warfare in Neolithic society. Stone mace heads are evidence of warfare, since maces are next to useless as hunting weapons. And large, complex and consistently maintained Neolithic complexes of defensive walls and V-shaped ditches show that war existed long before the Bronze Age.

As appealing as the idea of a prehistoric, Neolithic, 'Goddess'-worshipping matriarchy may be to modern thinking, the evidence for such a thing is flimsy and its interpretation is often driven more by modern gender-political ideology rather than cogent analysis.

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Women and Religion in Ancient Society

If the idea of a prehistoric matriarchal society is dubious at best, Brown's description of 'matriarchal paganism' in the Roman Empire is completely ridiculous. Roman women certainly had more freedom and independence than most of their Greek sisters - who were in many city states second-class citizens, confined to a special women's section of the home, never allowed to venture into public without their husbands. But to describe Roman paganism as 'matriarchal' is flatly wrong.

Roman society and religion was rigidly patriarchal. There were influential empresses, but no women ever ruled the Empire and women were totally excluded from all areas of political life. The home, society and the state were all based on the concept of the 'pater familias': the 'Father of the Family' who ruled without question.

There certainly were some cults which were for women only. Vesta, Venus, the 'Great Mother', Isis and Cybele were all Roman goddesses or religious imports from the East which focused on the affairs of women. Only women - the Vestal Vigins - could preside over the cult of Vesta; the ancient goddess of the hearth. And only women could take part in the annual mysteries of the 'Great Mother'. But the dominant and most important Roman religious cults were centred on the male gods - Jupiter, Mars, Apollo and, later, Mithras - and their priesthood was exclusively male. Mithraism, an imported religion from Persia, was particularly popular with soldiers, had an exclusively male membership and seems to have been the religion of Constantine himself before he inclined towards Christianity.

The idea that the sexes were equal and that the pagan, Pre-Christian, Roman society was egalitarian or even matriarchal is completely incorrect. Women, in fact, were regarded as being semi-men, or even semi-human. Unlike men they did not develop deep voices, facial hair, external genitalia or heavy musculature. They were considered more or less human, but not 'fully developed', since this concept was based on how males mature post-puberty. They were above slaves and animals, but only just.

Brown's depiction of an idyllic, feminist, egalitarian or even matriarchal paganism is appealing to the modern mind and is a mainstay of some New Age conceptions of the past. The evidence, however, indicates strongly that paganism was every bit as sexist and misogynist as Christianity was to become. If anything, Christianity was far more egalitarian even after it became the Roman state religion than misogynist paganism had ever been.

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The Inquisition, Witches and the Malleus Maleficarum

The Catholic Inquisition published the book that arguably could be called the most blood-soaked publication in human history. Malleus Maleficarum - or The Witches' Hammer - indoctrinated the world to "the dangers of freethinking women" and instructed the clergy how to locate, torture and destroy them.
(Chapter 28, p. 126)

Once again, Brown is wrong in most of his details here. The 'Catholic Inquisition' did not publish the Malleus Maleficarum. It was written by two German Dominican friars, Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kraemer, who were inquisitors themselves, but it was not any kind of 'official' handbook of 'the Inquisition'. Sprenger and Kraemer tried to get their book awarded the official imprimatur of the University of Cologne's Faculty of Theology on May 9, 1487, but their book was rejected as stupid superstition. Not daunted by this, they simply faked official endorsement. The book was quickly rejected by the Catholic Church as idiotic peasant nonsense and bad theology. In 1538 the Spanish Inquisition cautioned its members not to take the Malleus seriously. Until around the period in which it was published in 1487, witchcraft had not been considered heresy and was definitely not considered devil worship. Magic and witchcraft could be malign or benign in its effects, and malicious magic was certainly condemned, but witches per se were not regarded as evil or threatening. It was only at the very end of the Middle Ages - in the late Fifteenth Century - that this view began to change amongst theologians, with some coming to argue that all witches derived their powers not from 'natural magic' but from Satan. Catholic opinion on the matter was divided however.

This new theology was definitely the view of Sprenger and Kraemer, and they spend the whole first section of their book arguing for it. Not all churchmen were convinced, but the book obviously tapped into irrational fears about witches and Satanism. It became a bestseller and continued to sell well even after the Reformation; in Protestant countries as much or even more than in Catholic ones.

The book certainly does detail how to identify and question suspected witches, including a chapter on torture - which was, it should be remembered, a common technique for extracting a confession in many types of criminal trials in the period, however bizarre and abhorrent that seems to us now. However the phrase in quotation marks in Brown's passage, above, - "the dangers of freethinking women" - does not appear in the work at all and seems to be another product of Brown's fertile imagination.

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The Witch Craze: Protestant or Catholic?

Brown also implies that the persecution of witches was largely a Catholic affair. The evidence indicates completely otherwise. The vast majority of witches convicted and executed between 1300 and 1800 AD (there were actually few such convictions in the Middle Ages proper: 500-1500 AD) were actually in Protestant countries. With some regional exceptions, the Witch Craze never really caught on in Catholic areas. The popular idea of the 'Witch Burnings of the Middle Ages' is a strong and widespread one, but the Witch Craze was actually largely a Protestant and post-Medieval phenomenon. The idea that Christian institutions (ie 'the Catholic Inquisition') were largely responsible for witch trials is also completely incorrect. Not only were the overwhelming majority of witch trails not 'Medieval', 'Catholic' or by 'the Inquisition', but the bulk of the witch trials in Protestant countries were held by non-church, secular legal authorities.

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Who Were the Accused?

Those deemed witches by the Church included all female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb gatherers and any women "suspiciously attuned to the natural world".
(Chapter 28, p.125)

Once again, Brown is perpetuating some New Age myths here. Witch trials tended to be well-documented and so it is possible to analyse who exactly was accused of witchcraft. It is simply not true that 'freethinking women' were particularly targeted and those accused of witchcraft tended to be either (i) marginalised loners or (ii) high status women. It seems that jealousy, community disputes, irrational fears and property were the real motivations for accusations.

'Female scholars' were as rare in the Witch Craze period as they were in any pre-modern time, but there is absolutely no evidence that the ones that did exist were targeted in the hysteria about witches. Brown's reference to 'priestesses' is odd, considering that no pagan priestesses existed in this period, despite a New Age desire to believe otherwise. There is also absolutely no evidence that gypsies were targeted and here Brown seems to want to tap into a parallel between the Witch Craze and the Nazi Holocaust. 'Mystics' were common in the late Middle Ages, though the vast bulk of them were devout or even fanatical Christians. Once again, there is no evidence whatsoever that they were targeted. Brown's statement that 'nature lovers' were targeted is also without any foundation.

The idea that 'herb gatherers' were targets is ridiculous; since herbs were the basis of all pre-modern medicine and grown for seasoning in cooking. If 'herb gatherers' had been targeted then virtually everyone in Europe would have been arrested. Brown seems to be saying that traditional healers who used herbs for their cures were accused of witchcraft. Once again, analysis of the evidence shows that this is not true. The use of herbs in medicine was widespread and there is no evidence that the country 'wise women' who administered them were represented in any disproportionate way amongst those who were accused of witchcraft.

In his use of the quoted phrase "suspiciously attuned to the natural world" Brown seems to be implying that either this phrase is actually used in the Malleus Maleficarum (which it is not) or was a criterion by which witches were identified. This, again, is a phrase which seems to spring from his imagination.

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The Myth of the Midwife Witch

Midwives were killed for their heretical practice of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth - a suffering, the Church claimed, that was God's rightful punishment for Eve's partaking of the Apple of Knowledge, thus giving birth to the idea of Original Sin.
(Chapter 28, p. 125)

Yet again, Brown perpetuates New Age myths which are not supported by the evidence. In 1973 Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English published Witches, Midwives, and Nurses; a book which suggested that most executed witches were healers and midwives. This study was subjected to critical analysis in later decades and found to be deeply flawed. Ehrenrich and English had taken a few isolated cases, assumed they were the norm and then extrapolated from them to conclude, as Brown says, that healers and midwives were a particular target of the Witch Crazes. In fact, the evidence indicates otherwise.

David Harley systematically examined the evidence in his article "Historians as Demonologists: The Myth of the Midwife-Witch" (Social History of Medicine 3 (1990), pp. 1-26.) and found that being a midwife actually decreased the chances of being charged with witchcraft. Many accusations of witchcraft centred on still-births and infant deaths, with the blame for these occurrences being put on the malicious magic of witches. Far from being more likely to be accused of witchcraft, midwives and village healers were more likely to be the accusers, or to be witnesses summoned to support such accusations. In The Witch in History, feminist historian Diane Purkiss writes "midwives were more likely to be found helping witch-hunters" than as victims of their inquiries.

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The Witch Craze Holocaust

During the three hundred years of the witch hunts, the Church burned an astounding five million women.
(Chapter 28, p. 125)

This is indeed an astounding figure, largely because it is complete fantasy. Until the last few decades there was little to no systematic analysis of precisely how many people were actually executed in the Witch Craze between 1300 and 1800 AD. Estimates varied widely, though the figure of 'nine million women' caught the imagination of feminists and, in turn, found its way into New Age and Neo-Pagan folklore. More recent analysis, by feminist historians and others, has revealed and very different, less lurid, story.

Since the trials of witches were actually generally well documented, it is possible to get some idea of how many people were executed for witchcraft between 1300 and 1800 AD. In fact, there are only 30,000-40,000 actual documented cases of people being executed in this entire period. Even taking into account the fact that some executions were not documented - there were cases of mob lynchings, even on a grand scale, during the hysteria - any estimate which is above 100,000 people over five hundred years is totally out of the question. The figure of 'nine million' which is still bandied around in some New Age books is utter fantasy. And Dan Brown's slightly lower figure of 'five million' is also total nonsense.

It is also completely wrong to pretend that the Witch Craze was aimed purely at women. There is no doubt that women formed the majority of those targeted in the Witch Craze, but analysis of the available data indicates that they actually made up 80% of the victims. The remaining 20% were men. In some places almost all of the accused and executed were women. In others, Finland and Iceland for example, almost all were actually men. In most, both women and men could be executed for witchcraft, though overall the vast majority of victims were women.

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Women, Paganism and the 'Hieros Gamos'

Women, once celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment, had been banished from the temples of the world. There were no Othodox rabbis, Catholic priests, nor Islamic clerics. The once hallowed act of Hieros Gamos - the natural sexual union between a man and a woman through which each became spiritually whole - had been recast as a shameful act.
(Chapter 28, p. 125)

Yet again, Brown is harking back to a religious past which never existed. As monotheistic and utterly patriarchal Semitic religions from the Middle East, Judaism, Christianity and Islam certainly were male-centric. But the idea that non-Judeo-Christian religious traditions were somehow vastly more egalitarian is pure nonsense. Greco-Roman paganism was also highly patriarchal.

The idea that any ritualized 'Hieros Gamos' ritual sex was a mainstay of pre-Christian religion is also utter fantasy. Even in the few religious environments where such a ritual was enacted, to pretend that it represented equality between the sexes is to project modern ideas back onto a completely misogynistic pre-modern world.

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Left Brain, Right Brian and the 'Sacred Feminine'

Not even the feminine association with the left-hand side could escape the Church's defamation. In France and Italy, the words for "left" - gauche and sinistra - came to have deeply negative overtones, while their right-hand counterparts rang of righteousness, dexterity and correctness. To this day, radical thought was considered left wing, irrational thought was left brain, and anything evil, sinister.
(Chapter 28, p. 125)

Despite what Brown claims here, any 'association' between the feminine and the left-hand side is entirely modern. The ideas of 'left' and 'right' brain thinking only arose in the last 50 years and the association of the left hand etc with anything 'sinister' came from the fact that most people - male and female - are right handed.

'Left Wing' did not come to refer to radical thought because of any association with 'the feminine'. In 1789, the French National Assembly was created, with radicals, revolutionaries and reformers sitting on the left side of the room and conservatives and nobles sitting on the right. This is where the expression 'left wing' came about. It had nothing to do with women or the 'Divine Feminine'.

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History vs The Da Vinci Code is copyright Tim O'Neill 2006. All rights reserved.