(Essay) Reading Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as Matricide and Theacide by Carol P. Christ

©Andrea Sarris

When I read Plato’s allegory of the cave as an undergraduate, I was told it had something to do with the idea that the “form” of a table is more “real” than the table itself. I must confess that I had no idea what this could possibly mean.

As a graduate student, I struggled with philosophical and theological ideas rooted in Platonism.  Rosemary Radford Ruether named the flawed worldview created by a “classical dualism” that separates mind from body, spirit from the world, rationality from emotion, and male from female.  Her ground-breaking essay “Mother Earth and the Megamachine” clarified the difficulties I was having.

Western philosophy, described by Alfred North Whitehead as a series of footnotes to Plato, had gotten off on the wrong foot. At its very beginnings, western philosophy had attempted to sever mind from the body and nature, alleging that “man’s true home” was not life in the body on planet earth. Platonic ideas spawned the ascetic movements of late antiquity and early Christianity.  They are also at the root of the modern scientific worldview that alleges that the body and nature are “mere matter” “without soul” to be entirely controlled by the rational minds of men.

Ruether pointed out that women were identified with the despised body and nature and the realms of emotion and feeling.  She called upon feminists and ecofeminists to restore the severed connections between mind and body, spirit and nature, reason and emotion, male and female.  These ideas have informed all of my work.

It was not until I began to write She Who Changes that I realized that the Platonic worldview can accurately be said to be rooted in matricide (mother murder) and theacide (Goddess murder).  I am not exaggerating.

In the allegory of the cave Plato describes human beings as prisoners shackled to the walls of a cave in such a way that they cannot see the light at its mouth, but only the shadows flickering on its inner walls.  Socrates himself interprets this allegory for his student. Its meaning, he says, is that the light of reason is shackled by the “prison house of sight.” The meaning of this, we are told, is that the world we see—the physical world we sense through our bodies—is not the real world. The “real” world is an “intellectual world,” a world of ideas untainted by the body or nature, and to this world Socrates asks his pupil to turn.

Like Socrates, many teachers ask their students to question conventional ideas about the meaning of life. As a feminist teacher, I ask my students to question the inevitability of patriarchy. Am I not following in Socrates’ footsteps?  Why then do I insist that the allegory of the cave is matricidal and theacidal?

On the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, from which I returned only a few days ago, we descend into caves where the ancient people of Crete lived, buried their dead, and poured libations to the Source of Life.  We understand that the ancient Cretans honored mothers as the source of human life and Mother Earth, Sky, and Sea as the Source of All Life.  For them caves were the womb of the Mountain Mother, place of emergence, return, and transformation.

When they lived in caves, people sat around fires and told stories of their ancestors.  Surely they saw the shapes of deites, humans, and animals who featured in their stories in the lights and shadows cast on the stalagmites and stalactites and the cave walls.  This tradition must go back to the origins of human life; it is clearly documented in the Upper Paleolithic (50,000-10,000 BCE) .   As this painting of a pregnant horse shows, the rituals of the Upper Paleolithic were not only ”hunting magic,” but also expressed a desire to communicate with the Source of All Life, human and animal.

(To read the rest of the article, click here: Feminism and Religion)

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Donna Snyder
Guest

Great food for thought. I wish I were one of your students. Well, I guess, I AM one of your students. But it would be nice to sit in class with you.

Thank you, Magoists, for providing such nourishing information.

Sara Wright
Guest

Oh, I do agree – the Platonic view is rooted in matricide and theocide – it privileges mind over body, and dismisses the world of nature as being irrelevant. I come out of the Jungian tradition as a therapist and without my fundamental connection to the natural world I would never have understood that animals, and plants are more than metaphor… women and nature thank you Carol.

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