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The word matriarchy is coined as the opposite of patriarchy, from Greek matēr "mother" and archein "to rule". According to the OED, the term "matriarchy" is first attested in 1885, building on an earlier matriarch, formed in analogy to patriarch already in the early 17th century. By contrast, gynæcocracy "rule of women" has been in use since the 17th century, building on an actual Greek γυναικοκρατία found in Aristotle and Plutarch.

The near-synonyms matrifocal and matricentric "having a mother as head of the family or household" are of more recent coinage, first used in the mid 20th century. Matriarchy can be understood as the public formation, in which woman occupies ruling position in a family (a primary cell of society). Some authors depart from the premise of a mother-child dyad as the core of human group where the grandmother was the central ancestress with her children and grandchildren clustered around her in an extended family.

Other 20th century formations are gynocentric, gynocentrism (simplified by using the reduced prefix gyno- for gynæco-) is the "dominant or exclusive focus on women", as opposed to androcentrism.

A recent school of "Matriarchal Studies" led by Heide Göttner-Abendroth is calling for a more inclusive redefinition of the term: Göttner-Abendroth defines "Modern Matriarchal Studies" as the "investigation and presentation of non-patriarchal societies", effectively defining "matriarchy" as "non-patriarchy". Similarly, Peggy Reeves Sanday (2004) favors redefining and reintroducing the word matriarchy, especially in reference to contemporary matrilineal societies such as the Minangkabau.

According to her, the Island of Sumatra (Indonesia) and in Mosuo, the province of Sichuan (China), live within a matriarchal society. The prefix ama is used for Greek female warriors, the amazons, in Africa and among the mosuo society, having the same meaning: In the language of the Moso the word Ama has the meaning Mother. This is a striking analogy to the name of the warlike Amazons. Well-fitting to this the Berbers in North Africa, which had been matriarchal in the past, call themselves Amazigh in their own language. Because of this we reason that the very ancient word Ama has the meaning »Mother« in its narrow sense. In the figurative sense it stands for »Matriarchal Culture.

The prefix is also linked to the Babylonian mythology and its supreme goddess Tiamat: some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon. In the Enûma Elish, the Babylonian epic of creation, she gives birth to the first generation. The heavens and the earth are formed from her divided body. Thorkild Jacobsen and Walter Burkert both argue for a connection with the Akkadian word for sea, tâmtu, following an early form, ti'amtum. Tiamat could also have been derived from the Sumerian ti, life, and ama, mother.; the many synonymous and translations of the word mother also point to ama: Maa, Amma, Mata is used in India and sometimes in neighboring countries, originating from the Sanskrit matrika and mata; Ma, Mam or Mammy is used in Ireland and Northern areas of the UK; it is also used in some areas of the US.

According to Britannicca Encyclopedia, Tiamat (the personification of the salt waters), is a major mythological figure described in the Babylonian mythological text Enuma elish, the sacred scriptures of this civilization, and she is one of the most popular influences of the pagan culture on the Bible. Some have suggested that she inspired the biblical serpent and its symbolism from Pre History to all ancient civilizations.

Within Babylonian mythology, scholars, including Robert Graves, considered Tiamat´s death by Marduk an outstanding example of how occurred the shift in power from matriarchy to patriarchy. The Greek mythology also presents Apollo's killing of the female monster Python as a necessary action to take over the Delphic Oracle. In both mythologies, Tiamat and Python, have their body divided into two halves.


Matriarchy (from the Greek μητριαρχία) or gynecocracy (from the Greek γυναικοκρατία) refers to a gynecocentric form of society, in which the leading role is taken by the women and especially by the mothers of a community.

There are no known societies that are unambiguously matriarchal, although there are a number of attested matrilinear , matrilocal and avunculocal societies, especially among indigenous peoples of Asia and Africa, such as those of the Minangkabau, Mosuo, Berbers or Tuareg, and Basques and Sardinian people in Europe. Strongly matrilocal societies sometimes are referred to as matrifocal, and there is some debate concerning the terminological delineation between matrifocality and matriarchy. Note that even in patriarchical systems of male-preference primogeniture there may occasionally be queens regnant, as in the case of Elizabeth I of England or Victoria of the United Kingdom.

According to The Cambridge Ancient History: "the predominance of a supreme goddess is probably a reflexion from the practice of matriarchy which at all times charactherized Elamite civilization to a greater or lesser degree". Elam is the first high-culture of Iran and, along with the Sumerians, is considered one of the most developed societies of the ancient history.

In 19th century western scholarship, the hypothesis of matriarchy representing an early stage of human development — now mostly lost in prehistory, with the exception of some "primitive" societies — enjoyed popularity. The hypothesis survived into the 20th century and was notably advanced in the context of feminism and especially second wave feminism, but this hypothesis of matriarchy as "merely" an early stage of human development is mostly discredited today. However, scholars and archeologists such as Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler describe their notion of a "woman-centered" society surrounding goddess worship throughout Pre History (Paleolithic and Neolithic Europe) and ancient civilizations, by using the term matristic "exhibiting influence or domination by the mother figure". The notion of such a "woman-centered" society is also confirmed by major archeologists J. J. Bachofen, whose three-volume Myth, Religion and Mother Right (1861), impacted the way classicists such as Jane Harrison, Sir Arthur Evans, looked at the evidence of pre-Hellenic societies, Walter Burkert and James Mellaart: "The goddesses of Greek polytheism, so different and complementary," Walter Burkert has observed, in Homo Necans (1972) 1983:79f, "are nonetheless, consistently similar at an earlier stage, with one or the other simply becoming dominant in a sanctuary or city. Each is the Great Goddess presiding over a male society; each is depicted in her attire as Mistress of the Beasts, and Mistress of the Sacrifice, even Hera and Demeter".[ Source}