From Egyptian pharaohs to Roman emperors, men ruled and dominated much of the ancient world. But it was not always this way. “Sacred Sites: Temples of the Priestesses” explores how, at different times and in different places, women played a dynamic role in ancient society. Now, new discoveries in archaeology and science unearth their amazing story.
The documentary investigates the sacred sites where wise women and priestesses communed with mother goddesses and fertility deities. Their importance in ceremonies and rituals gave them prestige in society. But in time, male gods replaced goddesses as the preeminent deities, and men took ownership of shrines and monuments. With the rise of Christianity, women would come under threat like never before.
The documentary begins some 5,000 years ago, during the time we call the New Stone Age, or Neolithic. During this era, many peoples worshipped the earth as a divine mother goddess, suggesting that women held power and status. Now, archaeologists probe sacred caves to unearth evidence that women may have been leaders in Neolithic civilizations.
But the days of the earth goddess were numbered. With the coming of the Bronze and Iron Ages she was supplanted by new gods who lived in the sky. At Delphi, Greece, archaeologists show how a shrine to the earth mother Gaia was rededicated to the male god Apollo. By the Iron Age, men controlled religious ceremonies at most of Europe’s sacred sites.
But far to the south, priestesses controlled the vast wealth of ancient Egypt’s greatest sacred site. And in the fabled rock-cut city of Petra, women rose to positions of extraordinary power – especially power over money. While the Nabatean men of Petra were away on long-distance trading missions, the women ran society back at home, controlling goods, property and slaves.
With the rise of Christianity, the days of female independence were numbered. The Christian Church felt threatened by women and feared that the Devil would use their sexual allure as a weapon. Experts reveal how bishops and priests scapegoated women for all sorts of misfortunes… with shocking and horrific consequences.