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Why did male initiation rituals diffuse globally?
Support for the Eve Theory of Consciousness
There’s a tradeoff between writing posts of general interest and those that develop ideas related to Eve and the Snake Cult. The post on cultural diffusion was more of the former and was even tweeted out by an anthropology professor (likely unaware of EToC). However, even longtime readers didn’t see how the spread of dogs, bullroarers, and the Seven Sisters supports the other theories. This post connects the dots on the sort of diffusion that the Eve Theory of Consciousness (EToC) predicts.
In short, many linguists and archeologists argue that abstract thought evolved in the last 100,000 years. Separately, many comparative mythologists argue that a handful of myths have been preserved for over 100,000 years. Therefore, some myths may be memories of the emergence of the human condition—inner life and an awareness that we are moral agents who will one day die. Or at least the latter stages of that process1. The myths and practices scholars say share a common global root are about snakes, women revealing sacred knowledge, creation, and male initiation rituals—as predicted by EToC.
If consciousness could be shared, it would be done through rituals. That’s just how humans impart sacred knowledge, especially when it has to be experienced to be understood. Back in December 2022, I wrote about sharing “I”: “Consistent pedagogic methods were codified into “The Ritual” ~15,000 years ago.”
It’s important to emphasize how little I was going off of at that point. I had idly wondered what it would be like to first identify with the inner voice. Genesis struck me as a surprisingly good description, which could even extend to the grander phenomenon of forming a self-aware “I.” Good enough to require an explanation, which, as per Genesis, I assumed would involve a ritual that could precipitate self-awareness gifted from woman to man. It’s all very speculative, but it is also why most of you are here.
The mode of instruction could have been gruesome. One can view this from the lens of biological levers. There are only so many to pull, and many involve blood. A near-death experience makes a lesson stick. Perhaps realizing what was nearly lost would have brought “I” into relief, opening the door for a second birth.
But we don’t have to limit ourselves to theory. Six thousand languages are spoken worldwide, and each culture has some sort of initiation. If such a ritual existed in the deep past, many current traditions should share its essential elements. Mircea Eliade is one of the founders of modern comparative religion, and near the end of his life, he wrote about initiations. He argued that the oldest forms of initiation are a reenactment of the beginning of time when gods, demiurges, or culture heroes established ways to be “born to spirit.” Invariably, this is preceded by ritual death and often torture.
The interest of initiation for an understanding of archaic mentality lies predominantly in its showing us that the true man – the spiritual man – is not given, is not the result of a natural process. He is “made” by the old masters, in accordance with the models revealed by the divine beings and preserved in the myths. ~Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth (1984)
It is quite a good fit for EToC, which holds that when “I” first emerged in our species, it was not acquired naturally as a child but had to be taught, and these methods spread. What would that look like on the receiving side? After comparing initiations in Australia and South America, Eliade describes the visitors as:
mythical figures that are in some way connected with a terrible but decisive moment in the history of humanity. These beings revealed certain sacred mysteries or certain patterns of social behavior, which radically altered men’s mode of existence and, consequently, their religious and social institutions. Although supernatural, in the time of beginnings these mythical beings lived a life in some sort comparable to the life of men; more precisely, they experienced tension, conflicts, drama, aggression, suffering, and, generally, death – and by living all this for the first time on earth, they instituted mankind’s present way of being. Initiation reveals these primordial adventures to the novices, and they ritually reactualize the most dramatic moments in the mythology of the supernatural beings.
For the Australian Aboriginals, these mythical figures are the Rainbow Serpent or the Djanggawul—a pair of sisters sometimes accompanied by their brother. Originating from a mythic island to the East, Baralku, they navigated their way to the Australian mainland on canoes. Members of the Rirratjingu tribe revere these sisters as the architects of their world, both tangible and intangible. Not only did the Djanggawul sisters shape the physical landscapes—planting trees, creating mountains, and digging wells—they brought sacred objects, initiation rites, and law.
Australia has many traditions, but the arrival of a Great Goddess is a common theme. For example, the paper Earth Mother from Northern Waters reports, “Aboriginal opinion in the north of Australia is clear: the Mother of Us All came from across the sea. Her home was often a distant land.” To the East of the Arnham Lands of Australia lies Papua New Guinea, a journey possible by canoe. Australia has never been hermetically sealed from outside contact. It’s not out of the question that the initiation ceremonies were brought to the island by what would have seemed to be supernatural beings capable of administering drugs and digging wells.
Dreamtime myths make it clear there was no time before Dreamtime. The strongest version of EToC holds that even this is phenomenologically accurate, at least from the male perspective. Before “I” was a fixture, life would have been lived as a dream, in a flow state. The Ritual may not have taken someone from zero to one on the consciousness scale, but it was enough to be remembered as leaving Dreamtime (or Eden). As a rough timeline: “I” (and with it, recursion) starts to emerge 50 kya. Initiation rituals that held one’s face to the fire of sapience were developed 40-20 kya and later spread in a long diffusion process. The proposed mechanism is fantastic, but the timeline is within the mainstream for the evolution of recursion and Behavioral Modernity2.
Many scientists argue that Homo Sapiens has self-domesticated in the last 50,000 years. If EToC explains how that happened, male initiation rituals worldwide must have a common root in the last 20,000 years. Remarkably, the preeminent scholar on the subject describes the precise commonalities we should observe now: rituals spreading at the “beginning of time” that have to do with rebirth as a man of spirit. However, the EToC does not ask for faith in creation myths; theories need material evidence. Hence my interest in the bullroarer.
Bullroarer, totem of the diffusionists
“Perhaps the most ancient, widely-spread, and sacred religious symbol in the world” ~Alfred C. Haddon (1898)
As the name suggests, Homo sapiens is defined by ideas. However, as a rule, these do not fossilize. The bullroarer is crucial for an archeology of mind because it is central to initiation ceremonies the world over and has been preserved for as long as 30,000 years. If rituals that use the bullroarer share a common root, then it implies there was a primordial substratum of human culture that spread worldwide. On the other hand, if the bullroarer was reinvented time after time to be used in the same ways, it implies that our species is incredibly similar—almost deterministically so3—on an abstract ritual plane. These are the questions with which Anthropology used to be concerned.
Diffusionism was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It held that fundamental ways to organize society (e.g., agriculture, “god”) tended to be invented once and diffuse. So, all primitive cultures would share a root deep in the past, and high civilization would have a more recent root going back to Egypt or Sumer. The story of Anthropology in the last century is “Let’s stop right there at ‘primitive,’ we have some problematizing to do.” Many good points have been made about colonialism, gender, and the pitfalls of grand theories. More specifically, diffusion was wrong about agriculture, which was independently developed many times. However, the trend has left the bullroarer stranded. Out of sight, out of mind, beyond the reach of grants, and woefully unexplained.
Even after the diffusionist school has been dismantled, every couple of decades, a researcher finds the bullroarer anew and says, “Gosh, it really looks like diffusion.” Take, for example, Bethe Hagen in 2009:
The bullroarer and buzzer were once well-known and well-loved by anthropologists. They functioned within the profession as hallmark artifacts that symbolized the cultural relativist commitment to independent invention even as evidence (size, shape, meaning, uses, symbols, ritual) stretching tens of thousands of years across human history pointed to diffusion. In virtually every part of the world, even today, these artifacts continue to be invented (?) and re-symbolized in many of the ancient ways.
Note that Hagen is not a diffusionist (hence proposing their re-invention). Still, she points out that the natural explanation is diffusion, which has not been seriously pursued due to ideological commitments. Consider another non-diffusionist, Thomas Gregor, who spoke along the same lines in 1973:
“Interest has long since waned in ‘diffusionist’ anthropology, but recent evidence is very much in accord with its predictions. Today we know that the bullroarer is a very ancient object, specimens from France (13,000 B.C.) and the Ukraine (17,000 B.C.) dating back well into the Paleolithic period. Moreover, some archeologists—notably, Gordon Willey (1971)—now admit the bullroarer to the kit-bag of artifacts brought by the very earliest migrants to the Americas. Nevertheless, modern anthropology has all but ignored the broad historical implication of the wide distribution and ancient lineage of the bullroarer.” ~Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People
Other than Hagen’s work in 2009, the last systematic treatment of the bullroarer was by a Freudian anthropologist in 1976: “The present psychoanalytic essay draws attention to the possible anal components of male initiation arguing that the bullroarer is a flatulent phallus.” The paper is actually an excellent overview of the research up to that point; the author is a knowledgeable scholar. However, his methodology reduces the bullroarer to a farting penis when it may be critical evidence of who we are and where we came from.
Compare the Jungian analysis to that of the diffusionists back in 1920, who were willing to engage with the material question of why the bullroarer is widespread:
“Why do Brazilians and Central Australians deem it death for a woman to see the bull-roarer? Why this punctilious insistence on keeping her in the dark on the subject in West and East Africa and Oceania? I know of no psychological principle that would urge the Ekoi and the Bororo mind to bar women from knowledge about bull-roarers and until such a principle is brought to light I do not hesitate to accept diffusion from a common center as the more probably assumption. This would involve historical connection between the rituals of initiation into the male tribal societies of Australia, New Guinea, Melanesia, and Africa.” ~Robert H. Lowie Primitive Society, p313
According to many traditional societies, the bullroarer and associated initiation rites originally belonged to women but were given to (or stolen by) the men. As to not regress to the primordial times of chaos, women who see the bullroarer must be put to death. Explaining this pattern through psychic unity often gives a free pass on the odious implications. What does it mean if ritual (or literal!) femicide is hardwired into male brains rather than resulting from a particular cultural path, shared broadly, but not fundamental to the human psyche?
The Xingu of the Amazon tell of a time when women reigned. At the beginning of the current age, the men banded together, deposing and raping them and stealing their secrets4. The same is true to the south, in Tierra Del Fuego, where only the young girls survived the coup5. For a more palatable example, look no further than The Northman6. Young men are instructed from whence Odin’s wisdom came: “Tell me, how did Odin lose his eye? To learn the secret magic of women. Never seek the secrets of women, but heed them always. It is women that know the mysteries of men.” Just as in Eden, becoming a real man requires knowledge from women. Sometimes, this is interpreted as carnal knowledge, but the context hints at something more profound. The secret of existence, or the foundation of culture. This is stressed even when women are not present in the ceremony (or kept away under pain of death).
To preempt “it’s just a movie,” read the footnote about the Xingu, the section on Primordial Matriarchy, and what happened to the Djanggawul sisters after they gave men the bullroarer. The Northman draws on real themes found throughout the world, including the Near East. Adam gets the apple from Eve.
So, unbeknownst to me, some of the best evidence for global cultural diffusion is in male initiation rituals said to be first developed by women. According to Eliade, from Australia to Brazil to Greece to Africa, they are used in a “ritual reiteration of a mythical event.”7 Worldwide, this seems to hail back at least 11,000 years to Gobekli Tepe, where they have also found bullroarers. (Here is my treatment of Gobekli Tepe and the Snake Cult.)
How old are creation myths?
The Seven Sisters is the crowning evidence in the diffusion piece because it is statistically compelling. It’s hard to explain with chance or Jungian psychology. But it’s not good evidence of a psychological change; the story does not seem fundamental to what humans are. For that, we must look to the other ancient myths that experts widely believe to be globally disseminated.
It is challenging to reconstruct a myth that diffused five or ten thousand years ago. See, for example, how much uncertainty there is about the Proto-Indo-European mythologies. These have been studied for over a century and can be triangulated by correlating mythic phylogenies with those produced by genetic, linguistic, and archeological data.
Which myths, then, would you research if you believed the root to be 100,000 years in the past? Only the ones where the signal leaps out at you. Therefore, comparative mythologists tackling global phylogenies will find the stories with the most robust evidence of diffusion. As it happens, the myths they select support the core ideas of EToC.
Global mythologies is a niche topic researched by a handful of comparative mythologists. Julien d’Huy, for example, has constructed phylogenies of both snake myths and the primordial matriarchy (obviously relevant to EToC). The most ambitious recent work is E.J. Michael Witzel’s The Origins of the World's Mythologies. He proposes that in Africa, 130,000-65,000 years ago, a pan-Gaean creation mythology was forged. This was a disorganized set of myths without a particular order. It did not answer philosophical questions about our place in the cosmos. 40,000-20,000 years ago in Eurasia, a “Laurasian” mythology emerged, logically ordering and expanding on these myths to answer where the world came from. This creation storyline spread over all of Eurasia and the Americas. Australia, Africa, and Melanesia retain the archaic forms of the myths. He calls this grouping Gondwala.
To support this timeline, he argues that Gondwalan mythologies are similar, and this must be due to diffusion from the Out of Africa event. Therefore, pan-Gean mythologies must have been developed before then, from 130,000-65,000 years ago.
The storyline tends to support EToC, and if you care to check, it is available in the footnote8. (Spoiler: it includes dragons and elixirs.) For now, it is sufficient that serious scholars believe the world’s creation stories share a common root. It’s worth digging into the mismatch in his timeline with that of EToC. Why do so many academics place our cultural root over 100,000 years in the past?
Not a story the Jedi would tell you
If creation myths were told 100,000 years ago, this raises some obvious questions. When did language evolve? When did religion emerge? When did human evolution speed up (telling stories—entering the memetic niche—would change the fitness landscape)? All are highly debated, but amazingly, Witzel reports 40,000-50,000 years ago for each. He then rejects scholarship in genetics, archeology, and linguistics by appealing to the similarity between contemporary Australian and African shamanism.
“It is neither economical nor elegant, but factually impossible, to attribute the similarities among Australian, Andamanese, and San shamanism to some late diffusion—when, and from where?—or to some sort of independent local development based on Jungian ‘shared human characteristics’”
That’s the totality of the evidence for a root of 130,000 BC rather than 40,000-50,000 years ago. How could Shamanism possibly get from Siberia to Australia in the last 40,000 years? I stumbled on one very obvious answer in the diffusion article. Ice Age Siberians practiced shamanism and are on the shortlist for the people who domesticated dogs. Dingos have made it to Australia; shamanism could have taken the same path.
I’d now like to flesh that out. My theory is that dogs (8.3 kya, 5 kya), initiation ceremonies (spread 6 kya), bullroarers, snake worship (6 kya9), creation myths, the pronoun na (spread 6kya), and recursive thinking are all a package deal10. They should all arrive together, in addition to a general step change in cultural complexity. For those with estimates, I placed links to their first entry into or documented spread within Australia. It is also notable that several iconic Australian rock art styles emerge 6-9 kya, including paintings of civilizing Mimi spirits (like above)11.
There is enough evidence that Joseph Campbell points this out in his Historical Atlas of World Mythology. It states that arriving “simultaneously” with the dingo circa 7kya, there appear “spear throwers, boomerangs and shields, fine pressure flaking, unifacial and bifacial points, microliths and blades…There can be no doubt that this whole new industry had arrived from elsewhere, probably from India, because as Howells has remarked, ‘only God can make a dingo.’”
Witzel is aware of all this. He cites Campbell’s atlas (though not this passage) and admits to incontrovertible evidence that the stone tools and dingo are imports. However, granting any other diffusion sinks the theory. He maintains: “For the rest, the Australians Aborigines developed in an undisturbed and isolated fashion.”
Witzel asks us to believe that the Australians have preserved myths and shamanism for 130,000 years in such a way that it still resembles that of its closest cousins, the sub-Saharan Africans, Andamanese, and Melanesians. Again, he does not provide evidence of a root; his methods are comparative. His argument hinges on it being “factually impossible” for shamanism to travel from Siberia to Australia. Ideologically, I can see. But factually?
To propose a Gondwalan grouping, Witzel characterizes sub-Saharan African, Andaman, and Australian mythologies as simpler. The original form rather than the result of lossy transmission from Eurasia (as Campbell contends). Let’s check how that was received by his peers. One of his colleagues made a Goodreads account to review his book:
The work is not academically valid, but rather a recycling of racist notions common in German scholarship before World War 2, on which the author largely relies.
See the academic review by eminent scholar of myth Bruce Lincon. His review ends by calling the work "ill-founded, ill-conceived, unconvincing, and deeply disturbing in its implications."
This is in line with my scholarly review, available here: www.jfr.indiana.edu/review.php?id=1613
Lincoln published in the Journal of Asian Ethnology: “Let me make clear that I do not take Witzel himself to be racist. Rather, I believe he has written a seriously flawed book whose conclusions carry racist implications.” Witzel is a tenured professor at Harvard and will be fine. But it’s not exactly a mystery why younger academics cannot ask questions about global diffusion if they would like a job. Even characterizing one tradition as more complex than another can get an academic in hot water. Remember, the bullroarer has been ignored for decades out of a commitment to cultural relativism12.
Evidence for the Rainbow Serpent in Australia is only 6,000 years old. It first appears in the North, where one would expect contact with Papuan or Eurasian cultures and where the Dreamtime myths say the original culture heroes arrived by canoe. However, ideologically, it’s a bitter pill for Australian religion to be part of a 30,000-year-old tradition shared with much of the world. There is more mystique in a completely autochthonous tradition or one that goes back 130,000 years. Anything else is beyond the pale in the academy.
So, what we have is:
Myths of creation, snakes, and a primordial matriarchy that share a common root.
Initiation rituals that induct men into the world of culture. Patterned after the way the First Man was taught the secrets (often by women), died, and was reborn.
The usual story of our beginning is that human psychology is at least 200,000 years old, but it was only once population density grew that Homo Sapiens could enter the memetic niche. At some social threshold, culture became cumulative. Human psychology has not fundamentally changed in a very long time. Any cultural root must go back to Africa more than 100,000 years ago. Bullroarers and the initiation complex are evidence of the remarkable psychic unity of mankind; “Gondwalan” cultures, such as Australia, have been essentially isolated for 50,000 years.
I contend that the changes we see 40-50,000 years ago are exactly what one would expect when recursive thinking becomes psychologically integrated. A reorganization of the brain to house inner life drove the feminization of the skull and selection for genes expressed in the brain. There is an admitted bias to push back and smear out the process of becoming human. However, our “secret sauce” could be as simple as recursive self-awareness. Further, if we were fully human 100,000+ years ago, one must still explain:
why we absorbed or outcompeted every member of the genus Homo, spread over the entire world, drove many species to extinction, and started producing art in short order 50,000 years ago
what makes humans different from animals and the rest of the genus Homo
why initiation rituals and creation myths are so similar worldwide
when Homo became sapient.
EToC provides a parsimonious answer. “I” was the first recursive thought, and it made us human, aware of ourselves as agents who would one day die. By 50,000 years ago, it started to become a way of life, and humans moved into the memetic niche, spreading in waves across the globe. Later, industrial-grade initiation rituals were developed, functioning as a Homo sapiens software patch the Snake Cult etched into every man’s flesh.
“To know the myths is not (as was thought in the past century) to become aware of the regularity of certain cosmic phenomena (the course of the sun, the lunar cycle, the rhythm of vegetation, and the like); it is, first of all, to know what has happened in the world, has really happened, what the gods and the civilizing heroes did – their works, adventures, dramas.” ~Mircea Eliade, Rites and Symbols of Initiation
Eliade is not arguing that these things happened empirically but are part of a “divine” history that imbues nature with meaning. The sun sets for man and beast alike until man discovers culture. Then the sun sets. Initations are re-enactments of man discovering the divine, all of which happen on a spiritual level.
The Eve Theory of Consciousness says, no, these myths are not just profound metaphors. If creation stories or male initiation ceremonies share a common root, then myths can last from when humans became sapient. Creation myths are memories of humans forging themselves into native dualists. We can use them to understand our Genesis. This may sound like a reductio ad absurdum of the tendency to privilege indigenous knowledge, but it fits the data.
It’s surprising that bullroarers are used worldwide. Then, to find they are used in similar initiatory ceremonies. Where similar creation stories are told, and initiates are led through death and rebirth just as the First Man. And this knowledge was stolen from women or established by a supernatural visitor (or both).
This is just the sort of diffusion EToC predicts. Though “predicts” is generous, given the bullroarer has been studied for over a century. I call this a “first-person prediction,” using theory to predict something I personally am oblivious about. Like bullroarers, I was unaware of the pronoun na, Bicameral Breakdown, the Sapient Paradox, or how long myths can last. I was just an engineer with the Bible, a bit of introspection, and a question about the inner voice.
Naturally, this isn’t all that persuasive to others. (“No really, I just learned about this topic; check out my grand theory!”) EToC needs to predict things nobody knows, hence the previous foray into genetics. As far as I can tell, EToC requires strong selection on the Y chromosome around the Agricultural Revolution. The cause of the Neolithic Y Chromosome Bottleneck is an active area of research. Time will tell! Until then, I’ll be tightening up the EToC. You can help with that, too. Comment and share.
Cieri et al. point out that human skulls have become more feminine in the last 50,000 years, corresponding with Behavioral Modernity. They argue this hints at self-domestication, though, naturally, they don’t point to a worldwide tradition of such. The linguist Antonio Benítez-Burraco proposes that recursive language emerged in the last 10,000 years, again pointing to self-domestication. He downplays the phenomenological importance of recursion and, to my mind, doesn’t answer why *all languages today are recursive. Is it diffusion or dozens of independent discoveries of human’s defining characteristic?
Even more extreme is the Linguist George Paulos, who says recursive language evolved 20,000 years ago. He posits this must have happened in Africa (with no evidence other than humans evolving there in the first place!), and there must have been another Out of Africa event that carried full recursive language to the rest of the world. My sense is that if recursion is recent, it would have been developed by the vanguard of human culture. Twenty thousand years ago, that was Europe and Siberia.
Well, those who argue against diffusion emphasize the differences. See, for example, this recent review on the research of totemism, a posited package of religious and cultural practices. It rejects the package altogether, saying it was wholly constructed by researchers biased by their methodology borrowed from psychoanalysis or biological evolution. Without categories like this, I wonder how one describes the cultural changes worldwide in the last 40,000 years. It seems like movement on a common axis dealing with duality, spirits, and one’s relationship with time.
Anxious Pleasures: The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People (1973)
It [the patriarchal order of society] was not always so, at least not in myth. We are told that the women of ancient times (ekwimyatipalu) were matriarchs, the founders of what is now the men's house and creators of Mehinaku culture. Ketepe is our narrator for this legend of Xingu "Amazons."
THE WOMEN DISCOVER THE SONGS OF THE FLUTE. In ancient times, a long time ago, the men lived by themselves, a long way off. The women had left the men. The men had no women at all. Alas for the men, they had sex with their hands. The men were not happy at all in their village; they had no bows, no arrows, no cotton arm bands. They walked about without even belts. They had no hammocks, so they slept on the ground, like animals. They hunted fish by diving in the water and catching them with their teeth, like otters. To cook the fish, they heated them under their arms. They had nothing-no possessions at all. The women's village was very different; it was a real village. The women had built the village for their chief, Iripyulakumaneju. They made houses; they wore belts and arm bands, knee ligatures and feather headdresses, just like the men. They made kauka, the first kauka: "Tak . .. tak . .. tak," they cut it from wood. They built the house for Kauka, the first place for the spirit. Oh, they were smart, those round-headed women of ancient times. The men saw what the women were doing. They saw them playing kauka in the spirit house. "Ah, said the men, "this is not good. The women have stolen our lives!" The next day, the chief addressed the men: "The women are not good. Let's go to them." From far off, the men heard the women, singing and dancing with Kauka. The men made bullroarers outside the women's village. Oh, they would have sex with their wives very soon.
The men came close to the village, "Wait, wait," they whispered. And then: "Now!" They leaped up at the women like wild Indians: "Hu waaaaaa!" they whooped. They swung the bullroarers until they sounded like a plane. They raced into the village and chased the women until they had caught every one, until there was not one left. The women were furious: "Stop, stop," they cried. But the men said, "No good, no good. Your leg bands are no good. Your belts and headdresses are no good. You have stolen our designs and paints." The men ripped off the belts and clothes and rubbed the women's bodies with earth and soapy leaves to wash off the designs. The men lectured the women: "You don't wear the shell yamaquimpi belt. Here, you wear a twine belt. We paint up, not you. We stand up and make speeches, not you. You don't play the sacred flutes. We do that. We are men." The women ran to hide in their houses. All of them were hidden. The men shut the doors: This door, that door, this door, that door. "You are just women," they shouted. "You make cotton. You weave hammocks. You weave them in the morning, as soon as the cock crows. Play Kauka's flutes? Not you!" Later that night, when it was dark, the men came to the women and raped them. The next morning, the men went to get fish. The women could not go into the men's house. In that men's house, in ancient times. The first one.
This Mehinaku myth of Amazons is similar to those told by many other tribal societies with men's cults (see Bamberger 1974). In these stories, the women are the first owners of men's sacred objects, such as flutes, bullroarers, or trumpets. Often, however, the women are unable to care for the objects or feed the spirits they represent. The men band together and trick or force the women to give up their control of the men's cult and accept a subordinate role in society. What are we to make of the striking parallels in these myths? Anthropologists are in agreement that the myths are not history. The peoples who tell them were likely to have been as patriarchal in the past as they are today. Rather than windows to the past, the tales are living stories that reflect ideas and concerns that are central to a people's concept of sexual identity. The Mehinaku legend opens in ancient times with the men in a precultural state, living "like animals." In conflict with many other myths and the received Mehinaku opinion about female intellect, the women were the culture creators, the inventors of architecture, clothes, and religion: "They were smart, those round-headed women of ancient times." The men's ascendance is achieved through brute force. Attacking "like wild Indians," they terrorize the women with the bullroarer, strip them of their masculine adornment, herd them into the houses, rape them, and lecture them on the rudiments of appropriate sex-role behavior.
Rites and Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth (1958)
For among the Selknam the puberty initiation was long ago transformed into a secret ceremony reserved exclusively for men. An origin myth tells that in the beginning – under the leadership of Kra, moon woman and powerful sorceress – women terrorized men because they knew how to change themselves into “spirits”; they knew the arts of making and using masks. But one day Kran, the sun man, discovered the women’s secret and told it to the men. Infuriated, they killed all the women except little girls, and since then they have organized secret ceremonies, with masks and dramatic rituals, to terrorize the women in their turn. This festival continues for four to six months, and during the ceremonies the evil female spirit, Xalpen, tortures the initiates and “kills” them; but another spirit, Olim, a great medicine man, resuscitates them. Hence in Tierra del Fuego, as in Australia, puberty rites tend to become increasingly dramatic and especially to intensify the terrifying nature of the scenarios of initiatory death
Though one may ask, “What happened to the witches?”
In the diffusion post I also noted the worldwide prevalence of circumcision (maybe producing the most exhaustive list of examples?). Eliad treats bullroarers and circumcision as a package deal:
“Hence, in Africa, too, circumcision is believed to be performed by a primordial being, incarnated by the operator, and represents the ritual reiteration of a mythical event.All these data concerning the ritual function of the bullroarers, circumcision, and the supernatural beings who are believed to perform the initiation indicate the existence of a mythico-ritual theme whose essential features can be summarized as follows: (1) mythical beings – identified with or manifesting themselves through the bullroarers – kill, eat, swallow, or burn the novice; (2) they resuscitate him, but changed; in short, he becomes a new man; (3) these beings also manifest themselves in animal form or are closely connected with an animal mythology; (4) their fate is, in essence, identical with that of the initiates,  for when they lived on earth, they, too, were killed and resuscitated, but by their resurrection they established a new mode of existence.”
In my opinion, not a bad match for EToC, but let me know what you think in the comments. Particularly note the heavenly drink adjacent to fighting the dragon and humans/shamanism/rituals spreading around the time of the great flood (the sea level rose 100 meters 10-20 kya; produced many floods). It’s bizarre to me that he interprets the many flood myths as being purely metaphorical and sharing a root 100 kya, rather than ~15 kya when sea levels rose and shamanism spread.
primordial waters/chaos/'nonbeing' primordial egg/giant primordial hill or island
(Father) Heaven/(Mother) Earth and their children (4 or 5 generations / ages) heaven is pushed up (and origin of Milky Way)
the hidden sun light revealed
current gods defeat or kill their predecessors
killing the 'dragon' (and use of heavenly drink), fertilization of the earth
Sun deity is the father of humans (or just of chieftains")
first humans and first evil deeds (often, still by a demi-god), origin of death / the flood heroes and nymphs
bringing of culture: fire/food/culture by a culture hero or shaman; rituals; spread of humans / emergence of local nobility/local history begins
final destruction of humans, the world (and) the gods (variant of the Four Ages theme) (a new heaven and a new earth)
They correlate Dreamtime creation stories with a rock art complex that emerges 6,000 years ago. “It is our contention that an archaeological context for many of the more significant aspects of Rainbow Serpent oral history can be found over several millennia.”
Adding this note on 10/22/2023. A new paper argues Dingos probably didn’t arrive much before 3,200 BP. So Dingos are likely not part of the package spread in the Mid-Holocene.
“While the period of the Jawoyn Bim flourished over the past 500 years (Gunn et al. in press), definite time spans can be given to only three of the Mimi Bim styles. Examples of ‘hooked stick’ figures from the SFB were painted less than 9000 years ago (David et al. in press), the northern running figures style, a Mimi Bim style that is not represented in any Jawoyn rock art sites, from 9000 to 6000 years ago (Jones et al. 2017), and the yam style around 7000 years ago (Hammond 2016).”
Like the Rainbow Serpent in the previous footnote, the Mimi are said to come from a foreign land and teach art, ritual, and civilization. Artwork of both emerges around 6,000 years ago. Compare these dates with the public-facing tendency to push back Aboriginal culture. See, for example, this art gallery, which makes the case for the Mimi being real:
“Could a small lightweight humanoid have been living alongside Aboriginals in Australia 40,000 years ago? At first, this seems outrageous but it may not be as far-fetched as it first sounds. 50,000 years ago a small (3 ft 6 in) archaic human weighing only 25 kilograms. lived of Flores in Indonesia. Homo floresiensis was living contemporaneously with modern humans.”
For some reason, it makes more sense to posit a lost hominin species that taught the Aboriginals art and technology than Homo Sapiens 6,000 years ago.
Among many causes. One doesn’t need to be too conspiratorial about fads within academia; there is a natural boom and bust cycle. It’s currently a bear market for the bullroarer.