A Short History of Abortion and Contraception.
Part 2: The Demonisation of Women
WARNING: In this article I will mention from time to time the common names of plants used as abortificants. These medicines can be very dangerous and I cite them as historical information only. Modern chemical and barrier contraceptives are far more effective and much safer. If you suspect you are pregnant and do not wish the embryo to develop, or if you wish to enjoy a sexual relationship andavoid pregnancy consult a qualified doctor or birth control clinic. If for any reason you cannot use modern contraceptives and wish to find out more about natural birth control, please consult a trained herbalist, preferrably one who has a recognised qualification in conventional medicine. Any attempt to treat yourself is likely to have very serious consequences.
Due to some rather irrational comments made to Part 1 of this 4 part article it is necessary to clarify what we mean by abortion and contraception. Most of the herbal contraceptives discussed below work by preventing the fertilised egg from implanting itself on the womb wall, thus if we accept the pro-life campaigns definition that life begins the at the moment of fertilisation, these preparations are an early stage abortificant. The case has been presented in this way to counter the hysterical claims of the pro-life campaign that abortionists are "baby butchers." The fact that many of these herbal contraceptives occur in our diet as normal foods puts the hysteria into perspective.
Part 1 described the creation of the mother deity and the very earliest use of contraceptive herbs in the neolithic age. Mother worship and moon worship persisted for many thousands of years. Although both men and women were involved in the advances that improved life for the neolithic tribes and clans, childbirth and other femal biological functions that are associated with the reproductive process remained strictly womens' business. Men studied the stars and plotted a calendar, women studied the moon cycle ans learned to control the bithrate to the benefit of the community.
When we think of the attitude of most modern scientists to astrology, it is ironic to recall that astrology, studying the movement of heavenly bodies, was the first science.
It would probably have been a man who learned how to predict the changing of the seasons and understood that when the leaves fell off the trees it was part of a natural cycle and not something that happend because the gods were pissed off with someone. A woman however would have discovered that a tea made by infusing leaves of the Raspberry bush or other member of the Rose (Rubus) genre in hot water would relive the pain of childbirth and ease delivery. The earliest written instructions for preparation of this medicine date back to the 7th century B.C. and were found in an archaeological site in the middle east.
It is sad to think that the woman who wrote that on a clay tablet may have been passing on her wisdom before being stoned to death as a witch.
The most widely known contraceptive of the ancient world, from the mediterranean to the Persian Gulf was a herb named Silphion. This plant grew in a small area in North Africa and was exported to Persia, Assyria, Egypt and Greece.
The Roman physician Soranus wrote, "women should drink the juice from a small amount of silphium about the size of a chick pea with water once a month. He added that it "not only prevents conception but also destroys anything existing".
Another ancient herbalist/physician, the Greek Dioscorides, too, gave it for contraceptive and abortive purposes."
So effective was Silphion that when attempts to cultivate the herb failed it was overharvested and had become extinct within a century. Not to worry, Silphion was a member of a large and abundant plant family, species of which are found all around the world. Another member of the genus was used as a contraceptive in Britain, France and Germany and yet another in North America. All of these, with varying degrees of efficacy, have the same effect, they make the wall of the womb slippery so at the very earliest stage the embryo has difficulty implanting itself. Birth control by early stage abortion then.
I am not going to give more details of the modern name of this plant. The decision to be a complete bastard was prompted by some ridiculous arguments on recent discussion threads in which "pro-lifers" were screaming that life begins the moment the egg is fertilised. The plant of which I am wrting is a very common food plant, is present in many prepared foods and finds its way onto the dinner plates of the western world on a regular basis. So those rabid pro-lifers who regularly rant about the evils of abortion may themselves unwittingly be abortionists.
That is truly an irony to savour.
Use of Silphion as a contraceptive is recorded from the seventh century B.C. and it became popular around a hundred years later. (When I use B.C. and A.D. in date references, sometimes a Christian will pop up and try to claim this proves I really, really want to accept Jesus as my saviour but am too arrogant to admit it to myself. Where do these people get such nonsense from? I use B.C. and A.D. simply because it is familiar and everybody knows what I am talking about. And anyway, B.C. stands for Backwards Counting and A.D. for Advancing Dates.)
Silphion then was the contraceptive of choice at the time Cyrus the Great created the Persian Empire and built his great capital city Persepolis.
The formation of the Persian Empire which, through Cyrus' conquests, extended fromThe Indus to Egypt and the Mediterranean coast of Palestine, coincided with the formation of a new monotheistic religion Zoroastrianism that had as its God the sun, Ahuru Mazda or Ormazd (the great light - ever used a Mazda light bulb?) The light was not just the sun in the sky but the light of knowledge, represented by a flame. The religion is named Zoroastrianism and Zoroaster means great star.
A number of interesting things were happening in the world at that time, not all of them good for civilised living.
Around 1500 B.C. somebody woke up one morning and thought, "I'm bored of struggling with wood, bone and stone tools, I'll invent Bronze and kick off the first technological age." I'm sure it happened exactly like that.
In line with this inspired person's expectations the invention of metal tools led to a wave of advances in art, crafts, agriculture and science. One of the scientific discoveries that came about a few hundred years into the Bronze Age was that men's willies had something to do with making babies.
Being male, the boys from the Bronze Age soon learned how to turn making babies into a competitive sport. To make matters worse, around the same period in several civilisations simultaneously, a priestly caste rose to prominence who knew beyond doubt that God was a man and he hated women. Once men understood their part in the conception process it did not take long before they tried to control female sexuality.
Women were demonised. The first deity on earth in early myths had been female, a mother goddess, the mother of all things. Now the mythical perspective shifted, new creation myths told that the first human was male, created by the male God in his own image. The female was reclassified as Lilith in middle eastern legend, the she demon who had challenged the omnipotence of the male god. It does not take much nous to read this myth, since the earliest appearance of anything that could be called civilised life, as well as the importance of motherhood in securing the future of the tribe, people had understood the importance of the sun in maintaining life. Thus the calendar myths and the supreme deities, the sun father and the earth mother were created and worshipped side by side.
Once the half teaspoonfull contribution of men to the gestation and bith process was understood men wanted to take over the world.
A priestly trick revamped the nature myths, suggesting that early men were immortal, gods in fact, and it was only the sexual temptations offered by women that inflicted the miseries of mortality on them. The creation story of Genesis was greatly sanitized in the Bible writing boom after the Protestant Reformation, for an example of how it should read try this passage from a translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls made by poet (and author of I Claudius) Robert Graves:
Now, God had set Adam to name every beast, bird and other living thing. When they passed before him in pairs, male and female, Adam-being already like a twenty-year-old man-felt jealous of their loves, and though he tried coupling with each female in turn, found no satisfaction in the act. He therefore cried: 'Every creature but I has a proper matel', and prayed God would remedy this injustice........
God then formed Lilith, the first woman, just as He had formed Adam, except that He used filth and sediment instead of pure dust. From Adam's union with this demoness, and with another like her named Naamah, Tubal Cain's sister, sprang Asmodeus and innumerable demons that still plague mankind.
(A longer extract is printed at the end of the article)
A pretty damning indictment of womankind then, they had been declared the cause of all human ills, and all because the girls had periods and wanted to retain the right to control their own bodies to restrict the birthrate for the sake of improving the quality of the tribe's humanstock, for their own health and that of their children, and to restrict numbers to what the hunters, gatherers and farmers could feed.
Those women who knew the secrets of herbalism and how to prepare the medicines and infustions kept their knowledge, this was still an age of oral tradition. Books could be destroyed but thoughts and ideas could not. The priests tried to eradicate the knowledge of herbal medicine, not just for contraception but for all healing, by declaring that women who possessed or sought such knowledge were servants of the she-demon and as such an abomination to God. And so the first witches were created and stoned to death, not for calling up devils, causing forces of nature to sway the outcome of battles or turning righteous men into newts but for brewing up infusuions; of raspberry leaves to ease birthing pains; asafetida, wormwood or tansy to prevent pregnancy, or wilow bark to relieve a headache.
This then was how the followers of the patriarchal God of Abraham, the god of the monotheistic religions of the Middle East subjugated their women.
Fortunately the civilisations of Europe managed to hold on to their collective sanity, at least until they had managed to stash away enough of their knowledge in written form to give us a picture of how things really were.
Footnotes, links & Bibliography
from the Book of Bacharach (no info available on the web):
And the Serpent, the Woman of Harlotry, incited and seduced Eve through the husks of Light which in itself is holiness. And the Serpent seduced Holy Eve, and enough said for him who understands. An all this ruination came about because Adam the first man coupled with Eve while she was in her menstrual impurity -- this is the filth and the impure seed of the Serpent who mounted Eve before Adam mounted her. Behold, here it is before you: because of the sins of Adam the first man all the things mentioned came into being. For Evil Lilith, when she saw the greatness of his corruption, became strong in her husks, and came to Adam against his will, and became hot from him and bore him many demons and spirits and Lilin.
from the Book of Zohar
When Cain was born, she could not attach herself to him. But later she approached him and bore spirits and winged demons. For 130 years Adam had intercourse with female spirits, until Naamah came. Because of her beauty the sons of God went astray after her, 'Ussa and 'Azael, and she bore from them, and from her spread evil. spirits and demons in the world.... (Patai81:454f) And she goes and roams the world at night, and makes sport with men and causes them to emit seed. And wherever men are found sleeping alone in a house, they [these spirits] descend upon them and get hold of them and adhere to them and take desire from them and bear from them. And they also afflict them with disease, and the men do not know it. And all this is because of the diminishing of the moon.
Lilith: (from a translation of sections of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Robert Graves)
Some say that God created man and woman in His own image on the Sixth Day, giving them charge over the world; 2 but that Eve did not yet exist. Now, God had set Adam to name every beast, bird and other living thing. When they passed before him in pairs, male and female, Adam-being already like a twenty-year-old man-felt jealous of their loves, and though he tried coupling with each female in turn, found no satisfaction in the act. He therefore cried: 'Every creature but I has a proper matel', and prayed God would remedy this injustice.
God then formed Lilith, the first woman, just as He had formed Adam, except that He used filth and sediment instead of pure dust. From Adam's union with this demoness, and with another like her named Naamah, Tubal Cain's sister, sprang Asmodeus and innumerable demons that still plague mankind. Many generations later, Lilith and Naamah came to Solomon's judgement seat, disguised as harlots of Jerusalem'.
Adam and Lilith never found peace together; for when he wished to lie with her, she took offence at the recumbent posture he demanded. 'Why must I lie beneath you?' she asked. 'I also was made from dust, and am therefore your equal.' Because Adam tried to compel her obedience by force, Lilith, in a rage, uttered the magic name of God, rose into the air and left him...more: (The Lilith Myth)
AND LASTLY A DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME MOMENT.
This is an ancient recipe to prepare a one month course of the contraceptive herb asafetida, which would prevent conception for a year. Found on the Sister Zeus website.
To Prevent Conception for one year
An Ancient Recipe - not for home use
4 drams active principle of Embelia ribes
4 drams Piper longum
2 drams Ferula assa-foetida
4 drams of borax
The above was taken to prevent conception for one year in equally divided doses daily for 22 days while abstaining from intercourse.
What the "active principle" of Embilia Ribes is or how it can be obtained is information that no longer exists. The recipe also does not show how the asafetida should be prepared or used, or indeed wat parts of the plant were effective. We must assume the person who wrote the recipe considered this information so basic it was not worth repeating.
As the Sister Zeus website says, we should only consider this as historical information, even if effective contraceptives were not readily available we could no recreate this concoction from the information we have.
USEFUL LINKS for birth control
Further reading and websites for ancient history:
Tufts University Classics Dept. online archive of ancient texts.
Home of the Internet Classics Archive, the largest online archive of classical literature
Internet Sacred Texts Archive, sacred texts from all over the ancient world
The Hinduism Website
The Ayurveda, Bhagavad Gita, Ayur Veda, Rig Veda, Maharabharata and more
Oregon Biophysical Research Lab
Sister Zeus website - Silphion page
History Books and Research Papers:
The Myth of Eternal Return: Mircea Eliade (trans Willard Trask) Princeton 1994
Illustrated World Religions: Huston Smith
1) The Way Of Aminal Powers
2) Myths of the Primitive Hunter Gatherers
The intellectual Adventure of Early Man: H & H.A. Frankfort, Chicago 1947
The Epic of Gilgamesh (traditional - search for Gilgamesh)
The Zend Avesta (traditionl - search for Avesta)
The Golden Bough: Sir James Frazer
The White Goddess : Robert Graves
The Mythology and Rites of British Druids: Edward Davies
The Republic: Plato
The Virtues of Women: Plutarch
The Heritage of Persia: R.N. Frye.
other books too numerous to list have been referred to in preparing this article.
Click Here to read Witchcraft - The Burning Issue," A Short History Of Abortion and Contraception - Part 3"
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