03 Matrifocal DAO Structures and Early Earth Religions
By Danver Chandler
Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire... - Deuteronomy 12:2-3
Thesis. In what way, and from whom or what, did the patriarchal religious structures usurp and maintain power? Though complex and multifaceted, the forces that combined to support and sustain those religious structures may lie in a review of the early matrifocal religions. While hierarchical structures have ushered in great gains, it has been at the cost of nature's resources, human freedoms, and all that we can not quantify. In peeling back the layers of these forces - the attacks on and demonization of nature-based religions, we may uncover the origins of more balanced orientations that support recent organizational proposals for DAO structures.
Early Earth Religions
The scope of nature worship is vast. From animism to forest goddesses to Pantheism to witchcraft to the intricate variations between indigenous traditions of the past and the eclectic and contemporary practices of today, nature worship's most dangerous threat to hierarchical religious structures lie in the preservation and celebration of the individual's ability to directly connect with the divine.
In Reinventing Organizations, Frederick Laloux introduces the concept of the evolutionary Teal organization. Teal organizations are viewed as living entities. They are devoid of power hierarchy, and are viewed as an unfolding organizational approach that humanity can aspire to create. But what Laloux illuminates in the teal organization from the perspective of human history and developmental psychology, may in part be a remembering of our early religious origins.
Prior to the introduction of the teal organization, Laloux first details the infrared and magenta paradigms. In a generalized view he describes these smaller and less complex communities as a warring and violent collective that contained little to no hierarchy¹. He illustrates the through-line of violence from those paradigms all the way into his red, amber, and orange organization in ways that appear to negate the idea that pre-patriarchal values existed - that humanity was not likely to have meaningfully embodied matrifocal, egalitarian or peaceful orientations. From a historical and anthropological lens this sharply conflicts with what we know and are continuing to discover about the past.
the term matrifocal is not used in the same vein as matriarchy
I do not wish to romanticize nature-based religions or excuse practices that we in modernity would abhor, but rather the aim here is to redirect us to review pre-patriarchal values. Each of our lineages - ancestors - the world over - are to have certainly practiced matrifocal or Earth-based religions indigenously, and to varying depths in their communities. Practitioners of nature-based religions may have historically been referred to as heathens, pagans, gentiles - among other terms that have been strategically described as derogatory. But, pagans, defined here as pluralistic and individualistic followers of polytheistic Earth-centered, or matrifocal/matristic religious practices², believe "...that there are many valid religious paths, and that personal religious experience is the most important source of spiritual knowledge"³.
it is not a silencing of the masculine
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From the extraordinary and controversial work of Marjia Gimbutas, much of what we know of pre-patriarchal religions in Europe appear to contain matrifocal values in a more broad and all-encompassing form. In her book, The Living Goddess, Gimbutas elaborates as she describes the feminine symbolism within religious artifacts, "The female force...is a shifting kaleidoscope of meaning; she personified every phase of life, death, and regeneration. She was the Creator from whom all life - human, plant, and animal - arose, and to whom everything returned"⁴.
Nature-based worship...re-illuminates an orientation for our thoughts towards DAOs
It's important to note that the term matrifocal is not used in the same vein as matriarchy - the direct opposite of patriarchy, which evokes a sense of force, violence, and dominance². The orientation towards fertility or abundance, and to nature - to life itself - is matrifocal or matristic. Thus, the terms express an entirely different focus - it is not a silencing of the masculine, it is an acknowledgement that life comes forward from the feminine. Central to their meaning lie values that venerate nature and its cycles and circles, partnership, interconnectedness - seeing the divine everywhere.
Nature-based worship, is a bedrock for the celebration of life, living, and our capacity to create. Ultimately it re-illuminates an orientation for our thoughts towards DAOs. Though Laloux points to the this celebration of life in the teal organization futuristically, his ideas for what we can achieve are beautifully described:
We aim to have a workplace where we can honor all parts of us: the cognitive, physical, emotional, and spiritual; the rational and the intuitive; the feminine and the masculine. We recognize that we are all deeply interconnected, part of a bigger whole that includes nature and all forms of life¹.
But the time for the matrifocial religions was cut short, and sent underground. And for their perceived corruption - even in the face of awe - nature-worshippers, their symbols, and values, domestic and across borders, became a threat that led to the church's brutal attack on nature itself:
"...categorizing non-European peoples as 'pagans', especially those who seemed to possess a powerful connection to the natural world or to what Europeans viewed as the wilderness, often justified dispossession and invasion, even as alternate ways of expressing spirituality and authority captivated those who encountered them"⁵,
We all make up nature. But our early comprehension of other triggered some religious forces into demonizing nature - men, women, and vegetation - in order to gain control.
Trees, gatekeepers to the spiritual world and often at the center of nature worship, reflected and embodied life, death, rebirth and abundance.
There's a way of preserving the natural heritage
Dr. Sada Mire, an archeologist researching the horn of Africa, was compelled to write her book Divine Fertility after receiving a wager, a sacred object made from the olive tree, upon her grandmother's passing. Mire helps us to understand why humans even oriented towards nature in this way:
"Why do we have sacred trees? Why do we have sacred objects?...There's a way of preserving the natural heritage...But it's actually also a mechanism to regenerate the landscape and look after the landscape...And also these places are often medicinal...it's often because it has a medicinal element to it"⁶.
Why do we have sacred trees?...It's often because it has a medicinal element
I would be remiss if I failed to inform you of the religious and medicinal significance of the Yew tree. Its prominence is woven throughout history, myth, and religion. Today we might easily find the Yew tree in church graveyards, as it was customary to bury the dead near the Yew. However, the Yew tree is one of the most dangerous trees to humans. Consuming the needles from the Yew tree can kill you. Anything grown in, on, or around the Yew tree contains the poison within the tree too - so consuming, say edible mushrooms growing on the tree can result in death. Though, there are red berries on the tree that can be safely consumed, but the pits inside the berries still contain the poison and they should not be consumed. Though terrifying, the Yew holds dual power - death and life. Today pharmaceutical companies use the tree to fight cancer - lung, ovarian, breast, Kaposi's sarcoma.
the Yew Tree is used by pharmaceutical companies to fight cancer
Though for control and dominance, nature-worshippers and their sacred trees were fashioned into unwelcome competitors that needed to be demonized and destroyed in Europe⁷. Further, "...various Church councils in the early middle ages denounced those who venerated trees, one held at Nantes 895 AD..."⁷
So, what drove this motivation for religious ecocide?
For hundreds of years horrific torture, murder, and destruction ensued even further under the Inquisition. And where religious monopoly grew, matrifocal orientations either went underground, were absorbed, or transformed: tree symbolism transformed from a living being to a dead wooden cross⁸.
This destruction was not limited to Europe. Religious monopolies ravaged the world. In colonial Kenya, amongst the Agikuyu, arboreal destruction was pervasive. "The best and first mission of these missionaries was to eradicate their traditional temples of worship; the Mugumo tree, replacing them with churches and schools.⁹" The damage was equivalent to the destruction of one's quality of life:
... the Agikuyu demonstrate that nature is not an ‘empty canvass’ but rather a sophisticated one in which their culture, society, politics and religion are constructed...in planting trees, the Gikuyu would be planting a ‘seed of peace’ where religio-political stability could be realised and the environment managed sustainably...when the environment is destroyed, plundered or mismanaged their quality of life is undermined...⁹
tree symbolism transformed from a living being to a dead wooden cross
So, what drove this motivation for religious ecocide, and the loss of the matrifocal orientation? The proposed evolution of organizations from Laloux range in color and capacity from red to amber to orange to green and teal. In amber organizations you get principles that align with hierarchy, command, monopoly, and control. At the heart of the amber paradigm is the desire for predictability, which creates the pressure for security and order. Members at the bottom of this hierarchy are viewed as lazy and needing direction.
"The Roman Catholic church is built on this paradigm. Arguably it has been the defining organization of the western world...Amber organizations are still very present today. [R]eligious organizations... are run based on conformist amber principles and practices¹".
While human progress is evident in contemporary life, the difficulty to coexist remains and the desire to monopolize continues:
"Around the world, postcolonial nationalist imaginaries have followed the Western model of shrinking and neutralizing the religious sphere and, through enforced modernization, police action, and public education have banned or curtailed many religious practices from both public and private life"10.
How does a DAO orient matrifocally? While DAO structures seeking to avoid hierarchy may take on a heterarchical structure with great intentions, founders and contributors may unintentionally orient towards old hierarchical behaviors and expectations or even red, amber, or orange paradigms. Imbuing a matrifocal framework at the onset, development, and throughout the natural cycles of a DAO including its subDAOs and community of contributors, may help it consciously adopt a consistent and habituated matrifocal orientation.
Laloux posits a list of moods for organizations to orient their culture and purpose towards within the teal paradigm. He also includes references to those in authority as the responsible party to affect behavioral change in the organization. Outside of his book he includes a significant amount of resources focused on self-management - potentially one of the most significant factors for the health and longevity of the organization. Decentralized, online organizations may be served in reviewing Laloux's suggestions in addition to the diagrams below.
Below I outline a preliminary matrifocal framework for DAOs and self-evaluation tool for DAO contributors both for discussion and/or as a path for matrifocal orientation. I have chosen not to include a list of matrifocal values - it would be beneficial for DAOs and teams within to not only identify matrifical values on their own, but also list out damaging patriarchal values that the team may be operating under.
These two illustrations, while nascent, aim to help DAOs and contributors orient away from hierarchical reliance and towards the needs of a living DAO.
Matrifocal DAO Framework Questions
My early suggestions for the DAO Framework is to implement periodic reviews with the framework in order to assess and reorient as necessary. For the DAO's orientation - and to shift accordingly - be it seasonal, or according to its own cycles of self-inquiry. This check-in can be done collectively and creatively - online, in nature, in sacred places and spaces.
Matrifocal DAO Contributor Effectiveness: Self Evaluation
My suggestions for implementing the Self-Evaluation tool is that it should be introduced during or before onboarding so that new contributors can consciously think about all aspects of their contribution. Also, some of the criteria could be broken down into its smaller parts, rather than lumping them together - please share if you'd like to see that. While I have not created the team evaluation tool, it can be useful to use the self-evaluation tool to help teams orient matrifocally too.
Additionally, anonymous data from the self-evaluation can be published for each of the criterion, illuminating areas where the DAO can further support the entire ecosystem. For example, with the knowledge that the biggest challenge across a particular DAO is that contributors struggle in training and development, teams and the DAO at large can better support this area by reevaluating the values within their norms for training and development.
Early Earth religions paint a world that not only embraced nature, but it also focused on the power of the individual to have an experience with the divine - that at the core, each individual had the potential to cultivate a rich spiritual life that would inform their own personal path in a life-giving way.
the feminine force that survived
While the evolutionary teal organization hinges its argument on a past filled with violence, the matrifocal religions across our world tell a different story of our past. The teal paradigm certainly helps us become aware of the potential for the structure of decentralized organizations, and how individuals might contribute, however, we are not orienting to something new, but rather we are finally circling back to the feminine force that survived dehumanization, being denounced and pushed underground - forgotten. Only in recent times has the essence of the feminine force been allowed to safely speak freely, to share and present its life-giving value structures with the existing masculine force of today.
Which DAOs appear to have matrifocal orientations?
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- Laloux, F. (2014). Reinventing organizations a guide to creating organizations inspired by the next stage of human consciousness. Brussels Nelson Parker.
- Starhawk (Director). (2006). Earth Magic [Audio file]. Sounds True.
- Traditions, Texts, and Values. (2016). Pluralism.org; The Pluralism Project, Harvard University. https://pluralism.org/traditions-texts-and-values
- Marija Alseikaite Gimbutas, & Miriam Robbins Dexter. (2001). The living goddesses. University Of California Press, , Cop.
- Pagan. (2021). In Keywords of Identity, Race, and Human Mobility in Early Modern England (pp. 196–201). Amsterdam University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1t8q92s.28.
- Riksantikvarieämbetet. (2018, November 7). Höstmöte 2018 - Sada Mire. Www.youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgR_1ivBlVY.
- J H Philpot, Mrs. (2004). The sacred tree in religion and myth. Dover Publications.
- Hooke, D. (2014). Christianity and the ‘Sacred Tree. In M. G. Shapland (Ed.), Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World, Medieval History and Archaeology. Oxford Academic. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199680795.003.0012.
- Karangi, M. M. (2008). Revisiting the roots of Gĩkũyũ culture through the sacredMũgumotree. Journal of African Cultural Studies, 20(1), 117–132. https://doi.org/10.1080/13696810802159339.
- Yang, M. M. . (2004). Goddess across the Taiwan Strait: Matrifocal Ritual Space, Nation-State, and Satellite Television Footprints. Public Culture, 16(2), 209–238. https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-16-2-209.
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