Matrist/Patrist – oral/anal

‘Mammary Metaphysics’ – chapter 4 of RAW’s Ishtar Rising – embraces several themes under a unifying ‘starry goddess’ umbrella, starting with an observation on the similarity of original words for matter, measure and mother. It continues with links between Eve and Eris (“the negative patriarchal versions of the bona dea”), offers a flavour of a “purely oral religion”, explores sexual metaphor in poetry and mythology, and gives some graphic detail on troubadour/tantric “sexual energy” practices…

Most relevant to this post, however, it talks about G. Rattray Taylor’s distinction between two kinds of culture: Matrist and Patrist. Bob uses Freudian terminology here (Matrist = oral, Patrist = anal), and Taylor himself appears much influenced by Freudian type theory. (Incidentally: not mentioned in Ishtar Rising, but quite interesting nonetheless, Taylor worked in psychological warfare during the war and was a member of the Society for Psychical Research.)

Here’s the table as printed in Rattray Taylor’s Sex in History (RAW’s version simply adds the words “anal” and “oral”, in brackets, to the column titles):

I won’t rehash what RAW writes about the claimed oscillation of these cultural types through history. But I will try to comment on the political extension of the matrist/patrist dichotomy, and on Bob’s interesting focuses in this chapter.

(Mammary Metaphysics is also included as chapter 4 of Coincidance. And RAW also reproduces Rattray Taylor’s table – with slight changes in wording – in Prometheus Rising, chapter 4. He adds in PR that “Whether or not societies wobble between these extremes as Taylor claims, individuals certainly do. These are merely the consequences of (a) having the heaviest imprint on the oral (Matrist) bio-survival circuit or (b) having the heaviest imprint on the anal (Patrist) territorial circuit.”)

Moral politics – Matrist/Patrist

(Caveat: Bear in mind that RAW, and others, here describe tendencies, typologies, “ideals”, abstractions, archetypes – not fixed absolute identities – of individuals and cultures.)

Rattray Taylor describes Patrist culture as “politically authoritarian” and “conservative”, while Matrist culture he labels as “politically democratic” and “progressive”.

RAW clearly leans here to what he calls the “anti-authoritarian” oral polarity (he notes these leanings in important artists/poets – Homer, Shakespeare, etc) and he references the “matriarchal communism” versus “patriarchal capitalism” historical theory of Friedrich Engels. Bob adds: “It almost seems as if history, at least in the Occident, repeats the pattern Freud found in the nursery, from oral bliss to anal anxiety.”

Those who like to map political positions on a 2D grid (in which authoritarian/anti-authoritarian forms a perpendicular axis to left/right) might like to ponder how the Matrist/Patrist model fits (although I’m not keen on representing political views in terms of spatial coordinates).

On “political” personality traits, RAW comments (in Ishtar Rising) that “oral persons” tend to be “more flexible and sympathetic to the needs of others”, whereas “anal” types, such as Mr. Murdstone (in the Dickens novel, David Copperfield), find loving kindness less “rational” than the “sadism” they justify through logic. And on the kindness vs sadism (or forgiving vs judgmental) dichotomy, he writes this:

‘In contrast, and despite the orality of Jesus himself, the Judeo-Christian faiths are strongly anal and their stern Father God demands endless sacrifices, offers no joy on earth but only duty blindly obeyed, and threatens sadistic tortures … to anyone who crosses him.’
– RAW, Ishtar Rising, Chapter 4

RAW of course puts emphasis on the feminine/goddess/breast in this chapter (Mammary Metaphysics), and thus on the high value placed on “nurturing” experiences in oral/Matrist cultures. In contrast he emphasises the stern, cruel, punishing aspects of anal/Patrist institutions:

‘When anthropologist Weston La Barre says, “Mothers make magicians; fathers, gods,” he means that the magic or shamanistic trance is a return to the bliss at the breast of the all-giving mother, while religion is an anal propitiation of a fearful god who is an enlarged portrait of the punishing father.’
– RAW, Ishtar Rising, Chapter 4

Matrist/oral mystical “union”

Before I get into the detail of Matrist/Patrist polarity in politics (eg in Lakoff’s thesis), a few comments on RAW’s focus on the blissful union he associates with the Matrist-oral aspect of experience. He cites psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler’s notion that “the infant thinks the mother’s breast is part of his own body”, and remarks that this “may not be so fanciful, after all”. Bob interprets John Donne’s poem, The Ecstasy, in terms of sexual esotericism, writing:

‘… from a Freudian point of view, it restores the male to the purely passive role of the infant at the breast and thus represents the oralization of the genital embrace. Not unexpectedly, the purpose of this is to recapture Freud’s “oceanic experience” or the “trance of unity” as mystics call it.’
– RAW, Ishtar Rising, Chapter 4

Dissolving the physical boundaries that we impose habitually and conceptually on “raw experience” (via container metaphors: body as container of “my” sensations, mind as container of “my” thoughts, etc) also “dissolves” the “anal” conditioned basis for territory, division, separation, and thus alienation and anxiety. No wonder it feels like bliss!

(Incidentally, Israel Regardie turns upside-down¹ the Freudian reductions of mysticism to Oedipal tendencies, by suggestively invoking the goddess Nuit as cosmological metaphor from which the whole phenomenological universe emerged “with as much reluctance as does a child from the womb of its mother”. So no psychoanalytic neurosis, but universal primordial quest! C.G. Jung, interestingly, wrote² that men who have a “mother complex” are often endowed with the kind of feelings that “help to bring the ecclesia spiritualis into reality; and a spiritual receptivity which makes him responsive to revelation.”)

As mentioned above, RAW gives a flavour of a “purely oral religion” – by quoting a goddess invocation from a ceremony of a contemporary witch coven that he attended. But you don’t need to look to overt goddess worship for examples of this Matrist-oral “spiritual” flavour. Here’s a quote from a 1908 book that’s popular in New Age circles, and which uses the abstract jargon of “Infinite Mind of The All” rather than referring to gods and goddesses. The “oral” metaphors (in the sense RAW means), however, seem fairly obvious:

‘So, do not feel insecure or afraid – we are all held firmly in the Infinite Mind of The ALL, and there is naught to hurt us or for us to fear. There is no Power outside of The ALL to affect us. So we may rest calm and secure. There is a world of comfort and security in this realization when once attained. Then ‘calm and peaceful do we sleep, rocked in the Cradle of the Deep’ – resting safely on the bosom of the Ocean of Infinite Mind, which is The ALL.’
– The Kybalion: Hermetic Philosophy

Matrist/Patrist moral politics – Lakoff’s thesis

RAW’s contrasting of individuals and cultures reflecting “punishing Father” and “all-giving Mother” archetypes has a fairly obvious resemblance to the later (1996) political typology of cognitive linguist George Lakoff, based on “Strict Father” and “Nurturant parent” moralities.

Rattray Taylor’s Matrist/Patrist table, and RAW’s additional commentary on oral/anal polarity, correspond fairly closely with Lakoff’s political categories. (I’ve written quite a lot about Lakoff’s work, particularly on media framing – see my News Frames blog. Incidentally, I originally heard about Lakoff’s writings way back, from Michael Johnson [RMJon23] and Dan Clore on the newsgroup.)

With his book, Moral Politics, Lakoff popularised the idea that conservative and progressive politics reflect different moral hierarchies (based on strict or nurturant systems of upbringing/learning). Lakoff’s categorisation seems based on an experiential notion of morality similar to RAW’s. (You can view this morality in terms of the values we exhibit according to our imprinting and conditioning – see RAW’s remarks quoted above about “the heaviest imprint”.)

I see this not as a categorisation of people, but of political views. A person might have “conservative” leanings on foreign policy, but “liberal” views of domestic politics, for example – or nurturant/”oral” values professionally, but strict/”anal” values at home.

Anti-authoritarian ends / authoritarian means

RAW includes (in Mammary Metaphysics) a critique of a section of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the time. He observes that, although revolutionary in their opposition to entrenched Patrist attitudes and institutions, they seemed paradoxically to have “adopted the worst characteristics of patriarchal men”, including reviving “the old Victorian delight in sexual slander and blackmail” and dogmatic rejection of scientific research they dislike, as being “male”. Bob W. speculates that this might be due to “a strongly anal and Germanic influence exerted by Karl Marx”, among other things.

Rattray Taylor’s original table lists “Progressive: revolutionary” as a Matrist trait (opposing “Conservative: against innovation”). The Ishtar Rising version retains this wording, but in Prometheus Rising the table is reworded slightly to simply “Progressive” (vs “Conservative”). Losing the term “revolutionary” as a Matrist trait might just have been editing for concision, but one can see a general point that “revolution” shifts from Matrist to Patrist to the extent that it becomes dogmatic, intolerant and militant.

Again, the point seems to be not to label people, per se – but to classify tendencies in domains of experience. Or as George Lakoff puts it:

‘Can there be authoritarian progressives? In a word, yes. One reason is that means and ends can function as different domains of experience. Thus one can have progressive ends but authoritarian conservative means. One can even, in the extreme, be an authoritarian antiauthoritarian.’
– Lakoff, The Political Mind, p73

RAW expressed strong ‘libertarian’ views on several issues, but he seemed to dislike the dogmatic anti-welfare views taken by some libertarians (he recalled times when such folk would attempt to guilt-trip him over his time spent on welfare). Welfare, then, might be an enlightening issue to explore, both in terms of the Matrist/Patrist dichotomy, and to throw some light on Lakoff’s corresponding thesis…

Welfare – Patrist/Matrist – Strict/Nurturant

You’d probably sense from Rattray Taylor’s model that welfare would be frowned on by Patrist institutions but supported by Matrist culture. Lakoff’s thesis adds a rich explanatory and predictive element based on a cognitive linguistics approach to morally-framed belief systems.

The ‘Strict Father’ (‘anal’) view takes a “dangerous world / life is tough” premise, and a corresponding moral hierarchy that emphasises threat and competition – the primary metaphor being Moral Strength (composed of things like self-reliance, self-discipline, respect for strong authority). This morality reifies evil as a force to be resisted, hence the need for Moral Strength.

In contrast, “Nurturant” (‘oral’) morality places empathy (or “care”, “love”, “compassion”, “community”, etc) in the primary position of importance (with things like strength, self-reliance and self-discipline as secondary). See it not as a question of either/or (love or discipline), but of the relative importance assigned to each quality in a hierarchy of values.

In Lakoff’s thesis a reward & punishment type morality follows from the ‘Strict Father’ view, with its emphasis on Moral Strength, respect and obedience. (Note the Punishing Father archetype in RAW’s commentary). Obedience is taught through punishment, which, according to this belief-system, helps children develop the self-discipline necessary to avoid doing wrong. Self-discipline seems necessary for prosperity in a dangerous, competitive world. It follows, in this Strict/’anal’ worldview, that people who prosper financially are self-disciplined and therefore morally good.

This framing complements, in obvious ways, the ideology of “free market” capitalism. For example, in the latter, the successful pursuit of self-interest in a competitive world is seen as a moral good since it benefits all via the “invisible hand” of the market. In both cases do-gooders are viewed as interfering with what is right – their “helpfulness” is seen as something which makes people dependent rather than self-disciplined. It’s also seen as an interference in the market optimisation of the benefits of self-interest.

Punishment of disobedience seen as a moral good – how else will people develop the self-discipline necessary to prosper in a dangerous, competitive environment? Becoming an adult, in this belief-system’s logic, means achieving sufficient self-discipline to free oneself from “dependence” on others (no easy task in a “tough world”). Success is seen as a just reward for the obedience which leads ultimately to self-discipline. Remaining “dependent” is seen as failure.

So, based on the logic of this moral system (Patrist/Strict/’anal’), how does welfare fare? It seems fairly clear:

“Laziness is bad” – Under Strict/’anal’ morality, self-indulgence (eg idleness) is seen as moral weakness, ie emergent evil. It represents a failure to develop the ‘moral strengths’ of self-control and self-discipline (which are primary values in this worldview).

“Time-wasting is very bad” – Laziness also implies wasted time according to this viewpoint. So it’s ‘bad’ in the further sense that “time is money”. Inactivity and idleness are seen as inherently costly, a financial loss.

“Welfare is very, very bad” – Regarded as removing the “incentive” to work, welfare is thus seen as promoting moral weakness (ie laziness, time-wasting, “dependency”, etc). That’s bad enough in itself (from the perspective of Strictness Morality) – but, in addition, welfare is usually funded by taxing those who work. In other words, the “moral strength” of holding a job isn’t being rewarded in full – it’s being taxed to reward the “undeserving weak”.

Thus welfare is seen as doubly immoral in this system of moral metaphors. Of course, others would argue that the “disincentive” to work is provided not by welfare but by work itself – or rather by its long hours, soul-crippling tedium and low pay. But that’s a different kind of moral framing which takes us back to the Matrist/’oral’ realm…

  1. Israel Regardie, Mysticism, Psychology and Oedipus, 1985
  2. C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes – Mother, Rebirth, Spirit, Trickster, 1959

2 thoughts on “Matrist/Patrist – oral/anal

Add yours

  1. That’s three RAW books which have the G Rattray Taylor table, all chapter 4. Ishtar Rising, Coincidance and Prometheus Rising. Obviously a significant categorisation as far as RAW’s concerned. Interesting post.


  2. I think the Dickens examples RAW gives are well observed. Several of the prolonged pendulum like swings in my own life have followed these patterns, with harsh situations and values judgements following on from softer blissful circumstances.


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