Riane Eisler, in The Chalice and the Blade,
finds the origins of modern global problems even earlier, in a
great cultural shift that took place in eastern Europe over five
thousand years ago. This was the rise of what she calls a dominator
model of society following the Indo-European in-migrations that
poured over the societies of Europe and the Middle East beginning
around 4000 BCE. This structuring of society that came to characterize
the Western world was responsible for its success in coming to
dominate the planet; it also is largely responsible for the potentially
lethal dilemmas that now face humankind. In this interpretation
of our past, it follows that only another profound cultural shift
(which may be taking place) can provide the solution to our global
Eisler explains the fundamental questions that
drove her to this study: "Why do we hunt and persecute each
other? Why is our world so full of man's infamous inhumanity to
man-and to woman? How can human beings be so brutal to their own
kind? What is it that chronically tilts us toward cruelty rather
than kindness, toward war rather than peace, toward destruction
rather than actualization?"
One important aspect of any society, but particularly
our own, is technology. Thus although the word itself does not
appear in the index, in a way Eisler's book is very much about
the technologies we devise and the ways we use them.
Technology-Hero or Villain?
There can be little doubt that our use of technology
and our future are tightly intertwined. Technology is hero or
villain, depending on how you look at it. But of course that isn't
the real issue. Humankind has reached the point where one can
hardly imagine any technological goal that we could not accomplish,
if we chose to devote the necessary resources and time. The question
is: What is worth doing? And there modern society has been extraordinarily
A measure of our confusion is that we continue
to try to solve the problems that have been brought about or exacerbated
by our use of technology-with more technology! The most egregious
example is Star Wars, but there are others: attempting to cure
ecological insults brought about by our use of technology through
an "environmental control industry"; dealing with illness
caused in part by modern lifestyles through interventions that
further impair the natural healing and defensive systems; seeking
technological cures for chronic poverty and hunger that are themselves
the consequences of industrial society impinging on other cultures.
In another writing,2 Eisler adopts a somewhat
broader than usual definition of technology: Technology is a dynamic
process of using tools, resources, bodies and minds to achieve
human-defined goals. Focusing on ends rather than means, there
are four basic categories of technology:
of production. This includes farming, weaving, manufacturing,
construction, and other ways in which tasks are carried out to
sustain and enhance human life.
2) Technology of reproduction.
This includes birthing procedures, birth control techniques, replacement
of bodily parts (for example with prosthetics, artificial organs,
organ transplants), in vitro fertilization, etc.
3) Technology of actualization. These
include social technologies such as public education, democratic
political processes, art forms, actualization workshops, etc.,
as well as personal technologies like meditation for spiritual
growth, biofeedback training for self-healing, and so on.
of destruction. This is technology
aimed at destroying and dominating. These range from the techniques
of individual combat to vast systems for delivering nuclear warheads.
Simply classifying in this way makes it
clear that it is the human choices of life-destroying versus life-enhancing
technologies that constitute the problem. But that leads to the
next question: What determines these choices?
Most of us do not feel that we are making
life-destroying choices. (We may fed that someone else is, and
thus we feel forced into a national policy like "nuclear
deterrence".) We are part of a social matrix that results
in the choices being made, so the question becomes relevant: What
kind of social organization would give priority to technologies
of production, reproduction, and actualization?
The Hidden Side of History
Riane Eisler mainly takes a historical
and archaeological approach, although there is some reference
to anthropological findings. Because history has been written,
and archaeology has been carried out, in a society that until
very recently has placed women in an inferior position and glorified
masculine types of achievement such as victory in war, the story
of our origins has been biased. Only with the rise of feminist
scholarship have we begun to realize that there is a "her-story"
as well as "his-story".
It appears that, contrary to popular impression,
the earliest artifacts were not technologies of destruction. The
first artifacts, developed long before large game was hunted and
warfare began, were technologies of production: containers for
carrying, storing, and sharing food; devices for carrying babies;
techniques for softening food for infants to eat. As one looks
from proto-history to prehistory, the most striking thing about
the Paleolithic era is the enormous emphasis on technologies of
actualization, including cave paintings, figurines, and other
artistic renderings of the life-giving powers of the universe.
Two forms of power are
defined by Eisler-actualization power, emphasized in partnership
society, and domination power. The solution to our problems
lies in substituting the former for the latter.
The agrarian revolution of Neolithic times
docs not seem to have been primarily characterized by warfare,
slavery, and the subjugation of women, as some earlier scholars
had indicated. The most recent archaeological findings reveal
Neolithic societies in Europe and the Middle East, lasting for
many thousands of years, with standards of living higher than
those of some of the poorer nations of the modern world. "We
see here not only the domestication of plants and animals to produce
the surpluses to ensure a sustained food supply. We also find
sophisticated technologies of production, such as advanced stone
and metal tool making, great strides in the making of clothing,
pottery, rugs, and jewelry, and highly developed construction
technologies, including even town planning. Above all, what we
find is an emphasis on technologies of actualization, evidenced
by a rich, and highly revealing, artistic tradition." There
is a remarkable lack, in this Neolithic art, of images of armed
warriors, scenes of battles, slaves in chains, and similar scenes
characteristic of later art. There is a general lack of fortifications
in the Neolithic remains. And while they used knives, axes and
spears for hunting and farming, there is no indication that they
were used routinely for war. The social organization seems to
have been basically egalitarian; differences in status and wealth
were not marked. Women were not subordinate to men; "there
women priestesses, women craftspeople, and
supreme deity was conceptualized as female rather than male."
The primary principle of social organization seems to have been
linking by mutual trust and caring, rather than ranking and dominating
based on force.
This original direction in development
appears to have been interrupted about 5000 years ago by a pastoral
but violent people scholars call Indo-Europeans, who appeared
on the scene from the arid steppes of northeastern Asia. Little
is yet known about how they developed their form of social organization,
in which the primary principle was the use of force for ranking-of
men over women, and of strong men over other men.
The Minoan civilization on the island
of Crete seems to have been one of the rare places where a social
structuring on the basis of partnership rather than domination,
linking rather than ranking, survived into historical times. This
civilization used remarkably "modern" technologies of
production and construction; they had "the first viaducts,
the first paved roads, and even the first indoor plumbing in Europe.
Here technologies of actualization flourished into a uniquely
beautiful and rich art. And here the supreme power was still viewed
as the life-sustaining and enhancing power of the 'feminine' Chalice
rather than the death-wielding power of the 'masculine' Blade."
There was in this society, according to one authority, "a
love of peace, a horror of tyranny, and a respect for the law".
The example of Minoan Crete, says Eisler,
illustrates a fundamental principle-that the way a society structures
"the most fundamental of all human relations-that between
the male and female halves of humanity-profoundly affects the
totality of a social system, including its technological direction
social system in which the larger and stronger male half of humanity
dominates the female half-and to maintain this dominance is systematically
taught to equate masculinity with conquest and aggression-will
in its social priorities emphasize technologies of destruction."
Contrariwise, in a social system where male-female diversity is
not equated with inferiority or superiority, "feminine"
values such as caring, compassion, empathy, sensitivity, and gentleness
can operationally be given social priority. In these societies
based on a partnership model, life-enhancing technologies can
Looked at in this way, we see that our
potentially lethal global problems-the possibility of nuclear
holocaust; the global arms race; widespread systemic poverty;
and dangerous interferences with the Earth's life-support systems-are
not solvable under a social system based on domination, "for
they are the direct consequences of a dominator model of society
at our level of technological development."
The Deeper Significance of
This line of reasoning casts the feminist
movement in a very different light. It is not primarily another
movement for civil rights, for equal opportunities and equal pay
for equal work; nor even primarily a movement for raising feminine
"consciousness". It is the most fundamental of all the
social movements, underlying the peace and ecological movements,
hunger projects, and civil rights movements-because it is a movement
away from the hierarchical, aggressive, dominator kind of social
organization which is associated with all of our most serious
problems, and a movement toward a caring, partnership organization
that can give us a better chance to have a viable global future.
Two forms of power are defined by Riane
Eisler-actualization power, emphasized in partnership society,
and domination power, pre-potent in dominator society. The solution
to our problems lies, she claims, in substituting the former for
No doubt there will be scholarly challenges
to Eisler's thesis as regards some details. Yet overall it would
seem to have considerable face validity. As she says, the real
issue is that "in our high technology age, a dominator society
is fundamentally maladaptive, threatening not only our species
but all life forms on this planet. For how can the population
explosion be arrested as long as women are denied access to birth
control technologies, as long as they themselves continue to be
viewed primarily as technologies for reproduction? How can environmental
pollution and degradation be arrested as long as men continue
to identify with the manly' conquest of nature rather than the
women's work' of environmental housekeeping? Most critically,
how can we survive in a world still ruled by the Blade at a time
when we have the ultimate technologies for ending all life."
The Transformative Power of
If we are transforming from a dominator
to a partnership model (or must so transform), the change cannot
be brought about by violence. This cannot be the classical revolution
of the history books, for technologies of destruction can only
replace one dominator system with another. It must be, fundamentally,
a transformation of human consciousness.
Thus a central theme of the book is the
transformative power of communication. The imposition of a dominator
system on previously peaceful societies was accomplished not only
by the sword, but also by the pen. The imposition and maintenance
of a dominator society would have been impossible in the long
run without a reprogramming of the human mind to view men's use
of force or the threat of force to dominate or destroy as "divinely
ordained", "natural", and above all, "manly".
"The priests (who were often also
the scribes) of antiquity served the ruling castes. It was their
job to use the media of communication to manufacture and disseminate
a dominator worldview. Backed up by armed might, these men exercised
complete and monolithic control over all media. Deviations from
the officially sanctioned worldview were punishable by death through
torture-and presumably even after death and for all eternity by
vengeful gods. Thus the [basic images] of domination were implanted
in the deepest recesses of our collective unconscious, as hallowed
and immutable truths
"The old pyramidal universe-where
a male god (and his earthly representatives, the kings and high
priests of old) rules over all men, who in turn rule over women,
children, and the rest of nature-was challenged in bits and pieces
by progressive modern ideologies such as republicanism, socialism,
and feminism." Only recently have the outlines of the replacement
partnership model begun to be clear.
|If we are
transforming to a partnership model, the change cannot be
brought about by violence. It must be, fundamentally, a transformation
of human consciousness.
The mass media still largely reinforce
the old in-group versus out-group dichotomies, justifying violence
and inhumanity. But not only do the mass media have well-demonstrated
mind-enslaving capabilities. They also have potentiality as instruments
of transformation," as technologies to free our minds, to
re-awaken our consciousness, to help us regain our empathy-our
sense of connection with other humans and nature
. At a time
when one more war could be our last, these modern mass media provide
the technological capacity to exponentially accelerate the major
transformation in human consciousness that can take us from a
dominator to a partnership mentality."
The Promise of Partnership
Clarification of these two basic models
of social relationships-dominator and partnership-transcends and
is more useful than conventional polarities between political
left and right, capitalism and communism, religion and secularism,
and even masculinism and feminism. All the modern, post-Enlightenment
movements for social justice, be they religious or secular, as
well as the more recent feminist, peace, and ecology movements,
are parts of an underlying thrust for the transformation of a
dominator to a partnership system.
Eisler's vision: "Gradually, as the female half of humanity
and the values and goals that in andocracy are labeled feminine
are fully integrated into the guidance mechanisms of society,
a politically and economically healthy and balanced system will
our species will begin to experience the full
potential of its evolution." Eisler does not say, in this
book, how such a transition can be expected to occur although
she does promise to address the issue in two further books. She
does, however, conclude with a brief sketch of the changes she
envisions as we resume humanity's "interrupted cultural evolution".
One of the most dramatic consequences of this shift will be that
we will live free of the fear of nuclear annihilation. And as
women gain more equality, so birthrates may balance better with
resources, thus overcoming the Malthusian "necessity"
for war, famine and disease. As we trade the conquest of nature
for environmental housekeeping, we will rid our planet of energy
shortages, natural resources depletion, and chemical pollution.
"Indeed," says Eisler, "as billions of dollars
and work hours are re-channeled from technologies of destruction
to technologies that sustain and enhance life, human poverty and
hunger could gradually become memories of a brutal andocratic
There will be more openness and trust in woman-man relations,
in our families and our communities. With a social structure based
on linking instead of ranking, institutions will become less hierarchical,
allowing for diversity and flexibility; and many new institutions
will be more global "as the consciousness of our linking
with one another and our environment firmly takes hold".
The economic order will be drastically reshaped, more in line
with our partnership-model prehistory, and caring for others will
be a most highly valued and rewarded activity.
Eisler also foresees the development of a new mythology based
on the transformative mysteries of the Chalice. This mythology
will not, however, represent a psychic reversion to the past.
"On the contrary, by intertwining our ancient heritage of
gylanic [linking female and male] myths and symbols with modern
ideas, it will move us forward toward a world that will be much
more rational, in the true sense of the word: a world animated
and guided by the consciousness that both ecologically and socially
we are inextricably linked with one another and our environment."
How realistic is this vision? Riane Eisler
assures us that the process of unraveling and reweaving the fabric
of our mythical tapestry into a new pattern, in which such "masculine"
virtues as "the conquest of nature" are no longer idealized,
is well underway. Part of this change is unconscious; part is
occurring through various social movements that appear on the
surface to be about more specific social and political issues.
If she is correct, we may expect to see the feminist movement
expand to become a broad movement involving both sexes and directed
toward the basic transformation of human consciousness.
It is a most attractive prospect, if we
can believe it; and Eisler's analysis helps make it more believable
by highlighting an alternative view of human nature and human
evolution. Perhaps Eisler is right, and after the bloody historical
detour through dominator society, both women and men will at last
find out what being human can mean.
by Neolithic Art
One of the most striking things
about Neolithic art is what it does not depict. For
what a people do not depict in their art can tell us as
much about them as what they do.
In sharp contrast to later art,
a theme notable for its absence from Neolithic art is imagery
idealizing armed might, cruelty, and violence-based power.
There are here no images of "noble warriors" or
scenes of battles. Nor are there any signs of "heroic
conquerors" dragging captives around in chains or other
evidences of slavery.
Also in sharp contrast to the remains
of even their earliest and most primitive male-dominant
invaders, what is notable in these Neolithic Goddess-worshiping
societies is the absence of lavish "chieftain"
burials. And in marked contrast to later male-dominant civilizations
like that of Egypt, there is here no sign of mighty rulers
who take with them into the afterlife less powerful humans
sacrificed at their death.
Nor do we here find, again in contrast
to later dominator societies, large caches of weapons or
any other sign of the intensive application of material
technology and natural resources to arms. The inference
that this was a much more, and indeed characteristically,
peaceful era is further reinforced by another absence: military
fortifications. Only gradually do these begin to appear,
apparently as a response to pressures from the warlike nomadic
bands coming from the fringe areas of the globe....
In Neolithic art, neither the Goddess
nor her son-consort carry the emblems we have learned to
associate with might- spears, swords, or thunderbolts, the
symbols of an earthly sovereign and/or deity who exacts
obedience by killing and maiming. Even beyond this, the
art of this period is strikingly devoid of the ruler-ruled,
master-subject imagery so characteristic of dominator societies.
What we do find everywhere-in shrines
and houses, on wall paintings, in the decorative motifs
on vases, in sculptures in the round, clay figurines, and
bas reliefs-is a rich array of symbols from nature. Associated
with the worship of the Goddess, these attest to awe and
wonder at the beauty and mystery of life....This theme of
the unity of all things in nature, as personified by the
Goddess, seems to permeate Neolithic art. For here the supreme
power governing the universe is a divine Mother who gives
her people life, provides them with material and spiritual
nurturance, and who even in death can be counted on to take
her children back into her cosmic womb.
For instance, in the shrines of
Catal Huyuk we find representations of the Goddess both
pregnant and giving birth. Often she is accompanied by powerful
animals such as leopards and particularly bulls.1
(see below) As a symbol of the unity of all life in nature,
in some of her representations she is herself part human
and part animal.2 (see below) Even in her darker
aspects, in what scholars call the chthonic, or earthy,
she is still portrayed as part of the natural order. Just
as all life is born from her, it also returns to her at
death to be once again reborn.
It could be said that what scholars
term the chthonic aspect of the Goddess- her portrayal in
surrealistic and sometimes grotesque form-represented our
forebears' attempt to deal with the darker aspects of reality
by giving our human fears of the shadowy unknown a name
and shape. These chthonic images-masks, wall paintings,
and statuettes symbolizing death in fantastic and sometimes
also humorous forms-would also be designed to impart to
the religious initiate a sense of mystical unity with both
the dangerous as well as the benign forces governing the
Thus, in the same way that life
was celebrated in religious imagery and ritual, the destructive
processes of nature were also recognized and respected.
At the same time that religious rites and ceremonies were
designed to give the individual and the community a sense
of participation in and control over the life-giving and
preserving processes of nature, other rites and ceremonies
attempted to keep the more fearful processes at bay.
But with all of this, the many images
of the Goddess in her dual aspect of life and death seem
to express a view of the world in which the primary purpose
of art, and of life, was not to conquer, pillage, and loot
but to cultivate the earth and provide the material and
spiritual wherewithal for a satisfying life. And on the
whole, Neolithic art, and even more so the more developed
Minoan art, seems to express a view in which the primary
function of the mysterious powers governing the universe
is not to exact obedience, punish, and destroy but rather
We know that art, particularly religious
or mythical art, reflects not only peoples' attitudes but
also their particular form of culture and social organization.
The Goddess-centered art we have been examining, with its
striking absence of images of male domination or warfare,
seems to have reflected a social order in which women, first
as heads of clans and priestesses and later on in other
important roles, played a central part, and in which both
men and women worked together in equal partnership for the
common good. If there was here no glorification of wrathful
male deities or rulers carrying thunderbolts or arms, or
of great conquerors dragging abject slaves about in chains,
it is not unreasonable to infer it was because there were
no counterparts for those images in real life.
- James Mellaart, Catal Huyuk. New York:
- Marja Gimbutas, Goddesses and Gods
of Old Europe, 7000 - 35OO BC. Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1982.
From The Chalice and The Blade,
by Riane Eisler, © 1987 by Riane Eisler. Used with
permission from Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., San Francisco.