In the Paleolithic mind, the Great Mother came to be associated with the earth, on which these people fully depended for sustenance. It was only much later that divinity was connected to the heavens. The Goddess was immanent, not transcendent; She was located within each individual and all things in nature, not above them.
-Shari L. Thurer, Myths of Motherhood
Just how strongly paleolithic worship was centered on women and the Great Mother becomes abundantly clear when the art and symbology found in the many caves of south-western Europe are analyzed fully, objectively, and intelligently. French scientist Andre Leroi-Gourhan has made just such a comprehensive study. After comparing sixty-two caves and 865 subjects therein – including artistic renderings of animals, people, hands and vulvas – he reports that 80 percent of all female symbology occurs in a central location on the cave, whereas 88 percent of all male symbology is found on the periphery, in places such as the entrance and the tunnels. On the basis of this study, Leroi-Gourhan concludes that within an “ideal paleolithic sanctuary” not only are the Yoni and other female symbols of central importance, but there is also a specific room apparently for the purpose of worshipping women and the Goddess. He suggests that the magical, religious, and ritual life of our paleolithic ancestors seems to have called for a sacred room dedicated exclusively to the Yoni and those the Yoni symbolized.
-Rufus C. Camphausen, The Yoni
As I later learned, Steinem had been speculating about the origins of the patriarchy as early as 1972, when she told the readers of Wonder Woman this story:
Once upon a time, the many cultures of this world were all part of the gynocratic age. Paternity had not yet been discovered, and it was thought ... that women bore fruit like trees—when they were ripe. Childbirth was mysterious. It was vital. And it was envied. Women were worshipped because of it, were considered superior because of it.... Men were on the periphery—an interchangeable body of workers for, and worshippers of, the female center, the principle of life.
The discovery of paternity, of sexual cause and childbirth effect, was as cataclysmic for society as, say, the discovery of fire or the shattering of the atom. Gradually, the idea of male ownership of children took hold....
Gynocracy also suffered from the periodic invasions of nomadic tribes.... The conflict between the hunters and the growers was really the conflict between male- dominated and female-dominated cultures.
... women gradually lost their freedom, mystery, and superior position. For five thousand years or more, the gynocratic age had flowered in peace and productivity. Slowly, in varying stages and in different parts of the world, the social order was painfully reversed. Women became the underclass, marked by their visible differences.