(Book review) The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler (1987); An exploration of gender studies and critical history for the University for Life and Peace
Paper by Lieke Friederichs of Winter School 2019
(Book review) The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler (1987);
An exploration of gender studies and critical history for the University for Life and Peace
Lieke Friederichs, June 2019, Netherlands
This review was written as part of the January 2019 Experimental Winter School which was took place in and was organized in preparation of a Curriculum for the University of Life and Peace; an initiative of Zen Master Hsin Tao of the Jin Liou Mountain Buddhist Foundation. During this winter school 25 PhD candidates and early career researchers from China, Russia, Germany and the Netherlands took part, from disciplines ranging from neuroscience, energy science and public health – to discuss the deep roots of the global ecological crisis- together with a number of Buddhist monastics. I chose to further explore the subject of gender and critical history to support the curriculum development.
In one of his lectures Professor Michael von Bruck discussed culture, stories, myths and the need to develop new stories in order to change the course we currently seem the be headed in: The course of ecological destruction and the irreversible change of our living environments on earth. Von Bruck briefly discussed the need of a cultural metamorphosis. In my search for supporting literature on the subject, I soon reached the body of literature by professor Riane Eisler, who speaks of Cultural Transformation Theory instead Cultural Methamorphosis, and does so from a gender-based point of departure.
After reading several of her books, of which the most well-known is The Chalice and the Blade, I am convinced that Eisler, who later went on to establish the Center of Parterships Studies1, has some valuable concepts to offer that could serve the curriculum of the University of Life and Peace. In this paper I will discuss the book The Chalice and the Blade, which was first published in 1988, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the ‘Cold War’2. The Chalice and the Blade is gloomy because of its timeframe, but more than any book in a long time has left me hopeful. Eisler’s thesis is passionate but does not seem unrealistic and is well-substantiated with scientific evidence and work from other scholars, opening up an entirely new field for me; that of critical archaeology and history from a feminist, or gender-sensitive perspective.
The book presents the archaeological findings and re-evaluation of an era (Palaeolithic/Neolithic) when violence, hierarchy and greed did not seem to be the norm. Not only does Eisler present us with evidence, she also offers us a conceptual framework that much of her later work is based on. The Cultural Transformation Theory she builds describes the change of - what is presumably a global cultural superstructure – from a partnership model to a dominator model some 5000 years ago. In this paper I will discuss the books contents and offer a 2019 reflection where necessary, to provide some feedback on predictions made in 1987, or where possible, given my own observations of today’s world. I will offer some further concepts that may be useful and that are related to Professor Habito’s presentation on the ‘caring economy’, another concept thoroughly described by Eisler in the book The Real Wealth of Nations (2008)3. I will finish with some further follow-up questions in the context of the University of Life and Peace.
The Cultural Transformation Theory concepts: Partnership and Dominator models
The central hypothesis of Eisler’s Cultural Transformation Theory is a that a massive shift of a global societal superstructure has taken place, from a partnership to a dominator model. Although she focuses her historical review on the pan-European region, now everywhere in the world this dominator culture can be observed, indeed as the new global norm. Whether or not the same shift can be observed in for non-European Neolithic societies, or even whether it is ‘true’, I believe the conceptualization offered by Eisler is still useful when assessing any system from a gendered perspective without necessarily falling in the trap of female/male dichotomies.
The partnership model is characterised by:
- A democratic and economically equitable structure
- Equal valuing of males and females and high regard for stereotypical feminine values (like caring and caregiving)
- Mutual respect and low degree of violence
- Beliefs and stories that give high value to empathic and caring relations4.
The dominator model is almost diametrically opposed of the partnership model and is characterized by:
- Authoritarian and inequitable social and economic structure
- Subordination of women and ‘femininity’ to men and ‘masculinity’
- High degree of abuse and violence
- Beliefs and stories that justify and idealize domination and violence.
What caused the Transformation from a Partnership to Dominator culture?
In the beginning of the book Eisler presents us with new evidence of peaceful and art-loving civilizations in Neothical Europe. Some even living is proto-cities of up to 10.000 people in relative harmony. This is illustrated by the circumstances of the funeral rituals, the focus on arts and crafts (including cave-paintings), the existence of agriculture and the fact that skeletal remains from this era show very few signs of violence. In chapter 4 (Dark Order Out of Chaos: From the Chalice to the Blade) the main cause of a transformation away from this way of live is described. The change occurred in Europe between 4500-2500 BC -or as late as 1100 BC with the fall of Minoan Crete- and is theorized to have been caused by a wave of Indo-European ‘peripheral invaders’ whose cultures had presumably been influenced by a less hospitable climate. In the mountains and steppe climates where they roamed for thousand of years, they were able to domesticate horses. They were pastoralists and used metal for welding weapons instead of agricultural tool making. Moreover, they developed a strict hierarchy of men over women.
This theory is known as the Kurganization, after the first invaders of Old Europe, the Kurgan, and is accredited to archaeologist Marija Gimbutas5. The Indo-Europeans or Aryans are known to have wiped out entire technologically advanced Neolithic civilizations, through brutal mass murdering and enslaving women and children. Many of the fine art works of Neolithic Old Europe and Asia minor where destroyed, techniques were forgotten or appropriated. Community sizes are known to have been reduced from 10.000 to 40 people in some cases, moving form a proto-city to a pastoralist way of life (into a dark age).
“Now everywhere the men with the greatest power to destroy – the physically strongest, most insensitive, most brutal – rise to the top, as everywhere the social structure becomes more hierarchic and authoritarian. Women – who as a group are physically smaller and weaker than men, and who are more closely identified with the old view of power symbolized by life-giving and sustaining[Goddess] - are now gradually reduced to the status they are to hold hereafter: male- controlled technologies of production and reproduction(Page 53)”.
This shift has been so successful that according to Eisler it has erased partially our memory from the past, limits our vision for future pathways, and at present blurs our view of reality.
“The human yearning for beauty, truth, justice and peace [did not disappear]. Rather it was suppressed by a new social order. The old yearning would still occasionally struggle for expression. But increasingly it would be without any clear sense that the underlying problem was a way of structuring human relations [beginning with the two genders] into rigid force-based rankings. [..] As a result, even our complex modern languages, with technical terms for everything one can and cannot imagine, have no gender-specific words to describe the profound difference between what we have until now called a dominator and a partnership society. At best we have words like matriarchy and patriarchy to describe the opposite of patriarchy. But patriarchy with its emotion- laden and conflicting images of tyrannical fathers and wise old man, does not even accurately describe our present system (page 105)”.
New terminology away from the patriarchal/matriarchal lens
She therefore proposes a new set of terms which do precisely address the feminist issue of the dominator model. Androcracy6, from the root of the Greek words Andros (man) and Kratos (ruled) is the proposed concept that replaces patriarchy. To give a gender-specific term for social originization in a partnership model, which is not the polar opposite of a women-ruled matriarchically society, but instead is a system where no gender rules over the other, she proposes the term Gylany. This term is more poetical and derives from several roots (English and Greek), but in principle is linking the words Gyne (woman) and Andros with the Greek verb Lyin or Lyo, meaning to solve or to resolve (as in analysis) or to dissolve or set free (as in catalysis). In the following paragraphs we will discuss more about the new yet ‘ancient’ view of the gylanic partnership culture of prehistoric Europe (<4000 BC).
Palaeolithic cave paintings and tools revisited
In the first four chapters of the book Eisler discusses the findings of artefacts and settlements of the earliest civilizations in Europe. Interesting is the re-evaluation of the artefacts by a new generation of archaeologists who are, at the time of the book’s publication in 1988, becoming more multi- disciplinary. Also newly educated archeologists are starting to come from more diverse cultural backgrounds then the original explorers and archaeologists (starting from the 1800s) -white, male, western- who automatically related Palaeolithic wall paintings to hunting scenes, even if they showed women dancing. It was at the time of the writing of the Chalice and The Blade still generally assumed the paintings were done by men until in 2013 Dean Snow proved that most of the signatures (hand prints) were actually female7. Very interesting is the re-evaluation of Palaeolithic cave paintings. What was thought of as depictions of spears and arrows in hunting scenes, turns out to be better explained as leaves on a branch8.
The function of tools has also been reviewed in a way that makes more sense with regard to their form, by what has been progressively understood about human development. The first tools were made for food storage (vessels) and food processing and not for hunting. Mothers and children that were best at sharing had the best survival chance and would pass on these genetic tendencies. The very little meat that was consumed could mostly be caught by hand. What was thought to be arrow heads made from stone and flint, again, at a second inspection also seem to be ornamental leaves9. The placement of female figurines or sculptures distributing feminine traits are also is remarkable. They are placed in the centre in shrines or places of worship, whereas male figures are placed (alongside other female figurines) only peripheral. The female represented by the female figurines are therefore specified to be of the utmost importance10. Why then has the role of the feminine been downplayed in archaeology for such a long time (even until 2013)?
Eisler gives two reasons for this: The first being, that much of the supporting findings from the Neolithic era were only discovered after WWII. The second, that the findings just did not fit the theory of what was believed of Palaeolithic societies; namely that they were male-centred and male- dominated (p.7) as much as our society is today.
Neolithic times, technological advances and Goddess worship
What is interesting about Neolithic art, explains Eisler, is what is does not depict. ‘In sharp contrast to later art ...There are no images of armed might, cruelty and violence based power. There are here no images of ‘noble warriors’ or scenes of battle. Nor are there any signs of ‘heroic conquerors’ dragging captives around or other sign of slavery. [Also absent are] lavish chieftain burials[...]of later male-dominant civilizations [...] who would take with them less powerful humans sacrificed at their death (p. 17).
It has long been believed that the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Eurfrates has been the birthplace of civilization. However, the excavation of Neolithic settlements after WWII and interpretation by next generation archaeologists (with more eye and skill for context) and advanced dating techniques debunked a, then still commonly prevailing, idea of Europeans as barbaric wild men. This new school of critical history and archaeology represented by Eisler in the Chalice and the Blade, argues that Palaeolithic and Neolithic people in Europe, but also in other parts of the world, were peace-loving people that where in awe of nature. They tried to emulate and honour nature through art, organized religion and governmental institutions. The Neolithic people of Europe were not so primitive at all. Through radiocarbon dating techniques (C-14) the implementation of agricultural practices can now be traced back to as early as 9000 BC. People domesticated animals by taking care of young animals (except for horses) and set up agricultural settlements in the most beautiful and fertile places. Next to the ground-breaking invention of agriculture, technological innovations like weaving and pottery can actually be attributed to these Neolithic people. In settlements like Çatal Hüyük (Turkey) or VinÇa (Serbia) Neolithic ‘proto-city’ sites have been found where up to 10.000 people were living at once. City lay-outs show us that their inhabitants were not yet concerned with fortification and city-walls.
What is more, is that many feminine or female figurines have been found at almost all European Neolithic sites, like Catal Huyuk and Vinca, but also in the Near and Middle East. Many of which have anthropomorphic or zoomorphic features, a female with wings or a mother and child with bird faces. The famous Venus von Willendorf and other feminine figurines have long been regarded, and to this day commonly are, as mere symbols of fertility and sex for their display of abundant feminine traits. Scholarly findings of colleagues, beautifully compilated and build upon by Eisler, show us an alternative view that rather than looking at a grotesque sex symbol we may be beholding the very image of God.
This could mean that to Paleolithic and Neolithic people of Europe “God may have been a woman. [God] whose body is a symbol of the divine chalice containing the miracle of birth and the power to transform death into life through the mysterious cyclical regeneration of nature. This theme of the unity of 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 even in death can be counted on to take her children back into her cosmic womb (page 19)”.
Figure 1: Venus of Höhlefels, in mammoth tooth, found in 2008, Germany. The finder, Nicholas Conard speculates the figurine was made by a man (Nature, 2009). To this day (2019) there is discussion about whether these figurines are pornographic lust objects for Palaeolithic men or fertility symbols. Eisler and other scholars theorize that these types of figurines may, beyond ‘simple’ fertility symbols, be images of God in the form of a pregnant woman. Image by Ramessos
Minoan culture of Crete
Eisler present the case of Minoan culture (2600 -1100 BCE) of the Greek island of Crete as one of the most striking examples of a gylanic society, with most available evidence of such a society, as the Minion culture was very late to fall and left behind even some written accounts in a early European script (4 types). In the chapter ‘The essential difference: Crete’, Eisler quotes a number of archaeologist who describe the Minoans as the ultimate ‘homo ludens’ or joyful people who’s remains demonstrate ‘a love for live that seems to have obliterated the fear of death’. “An enchanted fairy world’. The findings include ‘magnificent frescoes of multi-coloured partridges, whimsical griffins, and elegant women, the exquisite golden miniatures, fine jewellery and gracefully molded statuettes’ (p.32). The first settlers arrived around 6000 BC and where therefore classified as Neolithic. They brought with them the Goddess worship and agricultural practices. For the next four thousand years, there was a slow and steady technological progress, in pottery making, weaving, metallurgy, engraving, architecture, and other crafts, as well as increasing trade and the gradual evolution of the lively and artistic style so characteristic of Crete. The whole life was pervaded by an ardent faith in the goddess Nature, the source of all creation and harmony. This led to a love of peace, a horror of tyranny and a respect for the law (p.36)’. When Crete entered the Old Palace period around 2000 BCE (Bronze Age), the religion of the Goddess was still flourishing, whereas on the mainland the Goddess was steadily being displaced by warlike male gods (p.30). During this time the government of the island was centralised. What distinguishes Minoan from other high societies in antiquity, is not (only) the arts, but was seems to be the equitable sharing of wealth. ‘Even the peasant’s homes are found to have had elaborate wall paintings. The subjects of the painting were drawn mainly from marine and land plants, religious ceremonies, and the gay life of the court and people. The worship of nature pervaded everything (p.34)’. Although there was an affluent ruling class of royal families, the overall nature of their rule seems to have been equalitarian. Games and sports were focused on cooperation.
Evidence suggest that the Cretan wealth, gathered through trade all over the Mediterranean Sea, was invested in living harmoniously and aesthetically. This is also suggested by the lay-out of the palaces that are without fortification facing the sea. ‘Fascinating’, writes Eisler, ‘is how our modern belief that government should be representative of the people seems to have been foreshadowed in Minoan Crete long before the so-called birth of democracy in classical Greek time. The evidence further indicates that in Crete power was primarily equated with the responsibility of motherhood rather [..] than through force or fear of force (p.38)’. Also, after the centralization of power in the Bronze Age/Old Palace era, and thus having introduced complexity and stratification, women maintained in prominent positions and remain the most frequently portrayed in arts and crafts.
Androcratic bias in archaeology
At the same time the study of Minoan artefacts and sites illustrate how an androcratic cultural bias has been inherent of modern-day history writing in the present. Eisler discusses the reports of a dozen or so archaeologists among which Sir Artur Evans who began excavating the sites on Crete in the 1900s and the Greek Nicolas Platon, who undertook and lead excavations on the island for over 50 years. The activities of depiction of women on vases and frescoes where described a women [perhaps] gossiping about ‘social scandal’ (p. 47) and the clear ‘confidence of women’ in all areas of society was theorized to be due their husbands being on long sea journeys. Eisler goes on presenting several examples of archaeologists running into what she calls ‘the eternal blockage’. According to Eisler what is apparent about Minoan culture, a peace- art and nature loving gylanic society, revolving around a Mother Goddess, is so different from the androcratic superstructure we live in, that there are only very few scholars who dare to mention, or are even able to see that the partnership model values of equality of the genders and the important role of women in Minoan society may have had a very crucial role in its success; the general joie de vivre of its people as displayed in the remaining artwork, the just and equitable governance system of society, its reverence for nature and its economic success.
She gives more examples of Egyptian excavations where in many cases it was assumed that when a tomb seemed to be of a royal kind, it must have been built for a king. In many cases it turned out to be a queen or queen mother, sometimes even decades later. By no means ancient Egypt could have been described as a gylanic society. However, women did hold positions of power both as priests and rulers. Common women also had relatively good legal and property rights and sometimes worked in public functions. Rulership positions where usually only acquired through a connection with the male lineage, but as queens or queen mother (of often very young pharaohs), women are thought to have positively impacted women’s rights in general11. The female gods Isis, the Nile Goddess who learned her lover Osiris to farm and the goddess Ma’at, the giver of justice, are reminiscent of the ancient earth mother. Whereas in Judeo-Christian monotheism (with its all male trinity) there is no female god whatsoever. Even the Holy Virgin Mary, who is after all the mother of God, is just human. According to Eisler this describes the degradation of the Earth Mother and therewith women in general, in a progressive pace (Christianity is relatively new in comparison to the Minoan and Egyptian culture described above) to an insignificant place both in religious and societal life.
Minoan Crete, a gylanic stronghold for much longer than any of its Neolitical mainland equivalents, in the book, serves as the essential exemplary case of a world of different possibilities, in the past and in the future. A different basis for organization of social structures that is fair and more in tune with nature and our innate desire for sustainable and joyful living. It also presents an entirely different view on barbaric Neolithic cultures, before the ancient Greeks (the invaders of Minoan Crete) who are said by Eisler to have derived much of the social structures like democracy and ethics from the ‘Old Society’. Eisler actually describes how the now much idealized ancient Greek society was in fact very much slave-based and employed all kinds of dehumanizing behaviour towards slave-made people, including women and children. The fall of Minoan civilization around 1100 A.D. brought on by mainland invaders is a tragically described in the chapter 4 Dark Order: Out of Chaos. On the Pylos plates the last days of peace the kingdom of Pylos on Southern Crete have been recorded. Archaeologist Jaquetta Hawkes gives an interpretation of the Pylos plates and aftermath in Dawn of the Gods (1968) 12:
“The emergency was faced without panic. The clerks remained at their benches patiently recording all that was done. Dispositions of rowers were made to provide defensive fleet. Masons were sent out, presumably to begin to fortifications along the long unfortified coastline. To equip the soldiers a ton of bronze was collected and nearly two hundred bronze-smiths assembled. Even bronze belonging to the sanctuary of the Goddess was requisitioned [in what Hawkes calls], a moving testimony to the crisis moving from peace to war (Hawkes, 1968, page 236).
“From the tablets that record the efforts to save the kingdom must turn to the fabric of the royal hall to see discover that it failed. The barbarian warriors broke in. They must have been astonished by the painted rooms and treasures they contained .. when they had finished looting they cared nothing for the building with its unwarlike foreign embellishments. They set fire to it and it burned furiously. The heat was so great that some of the pottery vessels in the pantries melted into vitreous lumps, while stone was reduced to lime .. in the storerooms and the tax office by the entrance the abandoned tablets [of Pylos] were fired to a hardness that was to preserve them for all time(1968, page 241).
The presumably gylanic societies of the Neolithic pan-European region are compared to the Garden of Eden (p. 63). From a gylanic stance, argues Eisler, it was only normal for Eve to disobey the male God Jehovah for it was her birth right to eat from the tree of knowledge, a symbol of the Earth Mother. The snake who advised her to eat from the tree, indeed itself being a powerful ancient symbol of healing and wisdom. The remaining Goddess symbolism of the story of Adam and Eve is given as an example of a myth that was probably rewritten to suit the dominator model. In chapters Reality stood on its head (Part I & II) and the Other Half of History (Part I & II) Eisler’s goes on detailing how history from then on was systematically rewritten and how intentionally and successfully the feminine and female contribution to society was repressed, omitted and then gradually forgotten.
Women’s role in early Christianity
An example is presented by attempts to repress the gylanic values of early Christianity (1st-2nd century C.E.). In 1945 in Egypt and in subsequent years in Egypt, scriptures were found representing some of the thinking of early Christian sects, which were manifold. Gnosticism was one of them and represents a very gylanic variety of the Christianity we know today thanks to these scriptures. Following the gylanic values of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth women were actively involved in early Christianity movements, as it offered freedom and a chance of manifestation which both Judaism and Roman rule did not allow. Eisler writes about gnostic meetings where rotating leadership was employed through drawing of lots, making no difference between men or women. However, after the first centuries and with the help of support of the ruling Roman empire the proto-orthodox was adopted, which afterwards repressed other forms of early Christianity with force and which explicitly condemned women back to a submissive position. “By the end of the second century […] groups in which women continued on to leadership positions were branded as heretical (p. 130)”. To this day the very significant role of women in the rise of Christianity is almost completely obliterated. All leading up to a point where in where anno 2019, present day, we still hear people ask ‘If women are as talented as men why then are to so few brilliant female painters, writers, scientist, politicians?‘
Dominator model in religions
Already we discussed the gnostic bible and the story of the Garden of Eden. On page 96 Eisler continuous describing examples of women as products or currency in biblical texts. Several rules from the Deuteronomy (fifth book of the Old Testament) 22:28-29: If a man finds a damsel who is a virgin and not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her and then be found, then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. Again in Deuteronomy (22:20-21), Girls that are accused of not being a virgin by their new husband, and the proof of her being a virgin cannot be presented by the parents, are to be brought to their father’s door where she will be stoned to death by the towns men. Adultery is in principle always followed with a death sentence for the woman as she has brought shame to the family. On rape, we know from the Koran Law (Sharia) that the assault has to be witnessed by at least four people. If the witnesses cannot be presented the verdict will be adultery in case of a married woman. Which is punishable by death. ‘Unbetroth’ girls, those that are not engaged to be married, have to be marry their assaulter. Furthermore, rape within the marriage does not seem to exist at all as women are expected to obey. However, outdated these rules may seem, they are still present in the religious rulebooks of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and present to us, as Eisler demonstrates, with the dominantly androcratic rationale of the post-Neolithic world.
Recent and current practices of domination
Furthermore, I would like to add to Eislers examples is that we know for a fact that ‘honour’ killing of girls by family members is practiced to this day, including in the Western world (Deeyah Khan13 , Aynaz Anni Cyrus14 ). In the film Banaz - A love Story, filmmaker Deeyah Kahn documents the murder and murder investigation of Banaz Mahmod, in South London in 2013. Mahmod, a 20-year-old woman terrorized by her husband whom she eventually leaves, falls in love with another man, thereby ‘dishonouring’ her Iraqi-Kurdish family. She makes reports to the London police five times of being followed and in danger, but the reports are never followed up. Using ‘honour’ in the context of murder is signifying that the honour of the family is more important than the right to live of a daughter and woman.
An older honour-based example, live is found in mesatya/sati (meaning honourable woman) which is the burning of a widow together with her deceased husband on the funeral pyre. This has been a common practice in higher castes in Hindu cultures but has been ruled out in India early 19th century (although legal cases have been reported after this time). There is a scholarly debate about whether sati was actually supported by Hindu texts and no prescription of the practice seems to appear before 700 C. E15 . This would fit the timeline of Eisler’s Cultural Transformation Theory, beyond the regions of Europe and Asia minor.
More current and common practices are chaupadi16 (condemnation of menstruating women to segregate themselves from the community, often to huts without amenities or chow sheds) and female genital mutilation (in order to take away their ability to have enjoyable intercourse)17 . All practices have in common that they are either designed to keep a woman pure or to keep her from shaming or dishonouring the community. This implies women would be inherently impure or can easily become impure, beyond a point of return. These examples I present here show that honour murdering or FMG are either implicitly or explicitly supported by religions. But the real point I would like to make is that on the whole these practices seem to be symptomatic for a global dominator culture, which is reflected in religious rulebooks. A culture where some people, and women in particular, simply have less rights. This makes Eisler’s book as relevant now as it was in 1988.
Possible future trajectories by Eisler: Breaking free, breaking down, breaking through
What does the example of Crete signify for gylanic partnership models in the future? Is there a future for gylanic societies?18 . Eislers book explains that the idea of the Palaeolithic men dragging women to his cave can no longer be sustained. Worse, it was antiquity and the much idealised ancient Greek civilizaton that presents the onset of repression and hierarchy that was followed and deepened into medieval and modern times, until today. According to Eisler most of the world population is still born into the androcratic superstructure and is therefore very likely to be influenced by it. The recent upsurge of right-wing politicians in elected positions in the world, I think can be regarded as a typical symptom of what we used to see all throughout history from the time when the dominator model was introduced; the manifestation of strong-men. Whether elected in a functional democratic system or otherwise, they use the same strong speech that speaks of the ‘enemy’, or several enemies, and of the necessity to act defensive (or offensive). Remarkable is that they often seem to have the same strong physical features (tall and fierce looking).
Breaking free and the Backlash
Throughout the Chalice and the Blade, Eisler describes how there have been consistent re-emergences of more gylanic sub-cultures or movements in history. Examples are early Christianity, the troubadour culture in French courts (12th-13th century) and the influential role of women in the French Salons following the Enlightenment (early 18th century). It is necessary to emphasize that both men and women where part of these movements. But until now she observes that there has always been a backlash -the pendulum swinging back- as it is one of the primary tasks of the dominator culture to keep the strict ranks in order e.g. to keep women in check. At the time of the book (1988) just 20 years after the second feminist liberation (1960s and 1970s), and perhaps coincidently also the time when many of the archaeological work with a gender-sensitive view was presented, Eisler indeed observes a regressive movement.
“If we look a rightist action both in political groups] and religious counterparts in East and West – we see that the return of women to their traditional subservient role is a top priority. Yet ironically, for the vast majority of those committed to ideals of like progress, equality and peace, the connection between women’s issues and the attainment of progressive goals remains invisible. For liberals, socialists, communists, and others from middle to left, the liberation of women is secondary or peripheral – to be addressed, if at all, after the important problems facing our globe have been resolved(168).
The backlash that Eisler expected has indeed been observed since the 90s, both in popular culture and academia. In 2000, theology professor Chynthia Ellar critiqued the works of the Gimbutus (Kurganization Theory) and colleagues, in ‘Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory’ and dismisses the Goddess theory of the basis of lack of objectivity. The Goddess Theory she calls an ‘enobling lie’ not constructive for the feminist movement. In his 2005 critique of Eller’s book historian Max Dashu19 in turn critiques Eller of disregarding all academic concepts and civil activities, like novels, art, business ventures and on/off-line communities, that have by then emerged and can affiliated with the Goddess theory. About the new feminist or gender specific concepts from academia Dashu says Eller completely ignores over any attempts to create new gender specific terms by other academics and instead calls everything matriarchal (even in the title of her book). Where it precisely the point of academia to find new concepts to better describe reality/plurality.
“[Eller prematurely] conflates all into one monolithic 'myth' devoid of any historical foundation’ while at the same time being very biased towards paternalistic views on history (Dashu, 2005)20 . “The project of re-evaluating history with a gender-sensitive eye is in its infancy, and necessarily allied to indigenous and anticolonial perspectives. An international feminist perspective views history as remedial […] because sexism and racism have obscured, distorted and omitted what information is available to us […]and provisional, because new information keeps pouring in. History has changed rapidly since the 60s, in every field: Africana, Celtic studies, West Asian studies, American Indian scholarship. Thousands of new books come out every year that look deeper into women's status and stories in a huge range of societies and periods, at a level of detail not possible before. Fresh interpretations are being advanced from voices not heard before. It's way too soon for sweeping dismissals”.
The necessity for further study of the partnership model in a global and Eastern context
In the last chapters of the Chalice and the Blade, Breaking Down and Breaking through in Evolution Eisler presents two possible futures. The Dominator future on the one hand and the Partnership future on the other hand. The partnership future, as I interpret it, calls for a spiritual awakening, a re-establishment of our interconnectedness, our surrounding and ecosystems. A re-evaluation of what is means to be happy, healthy and successful. I think non-violence and other values and practices from Eastern philosophy could have an important role to play. Eisler mention satyagraha or ‘truth force’ practiced by Mahatma Ghandi. Which is the way of practicing non-violent conflict “where the aim is to transform the conflict rather than to surpress it or have it explode into violence (p. 192)”. Other than this, there is few mentioning of Eastern philosophy and I actually regard this as one of the weaker points of the book, as the concept on unity with nature is so inherent to Eastern philosophy.
In the dominator future the picture is gloomy. Poverty, hunger, war and social crises will continue to occur in a reality where the majority of leader are totalitarians of the neo-androcratic type. Their symbol is still the blade, only now in different more technologically advanced forms. The dominator future would, Eisler predicts “sooner or later, lead to a nuclear war – and would mean the end of all humanity’s problems and aspirations (p. 184)”. Anno 2019, fortunately it has not come to a nuclear war. The winter school reminded us of another ticking time bomb. IPCC researchers have calculated the amount of CO2 that can be released into the atmosphere before we reach a tipping (at 1.5°C and 2°C) when the global climate will be shifted into a new state that triggers all kinds of effects that will drastically change the liveability of our planet earth21.
“Why if these androcratic/gylanic system dynamics seem so obvious, have they received so little formal study?”, asks Eisler. “Even now, where they exist, women’s studies programs are given miniscule budgets, low status, and even lower priority in college and university hierarchy. Only in a handful of places Is even a single women’s studies class a graduation requirement (p. 147)”.
During my master programme at Wageningen University of Life Science in the Netherlands, I had did have the pleasure of following an elective course in 2012 called ‘Gender and Natural Resources’ by Professor Margreet Zwarteveen. During this course we discussed concepts like masculinity and femininity, in relation to ethnicity, natural resources and agricultural management. Ecofeminism is one the major theories with regard to gender and natural resources. Modern ecofeminism, or feminist eco-criticism, questions how the nature-culture divide enables the oppression of female and ‘nonhuman’ bodies e.g. nature. It is also an activist and academic movement that sees critical connections between the exploitation of nature and the domination over women. While she does not mention ecofeminism as such it is my believe that Eisler’s work could be placed in the modern ecofeminist tradition. This paper does not allow a full description of the rise and critique of the ecofeminist movement but Eisler’s dominator model does offer a non-essentialist lens, where ‘masculine’ dominators control and oppress the ‘feminine’ and nature.
This allows for a much-needed opportunity to circumvent some of the binary ‘men versus women’ discussions, which are not very useful in my perspective. Men and women, in my view, would be just as capable of making poor or smart decisions when it comes to dealing with nature and natural resources. And it rather a cultural system where exploitation and domination are inherent, like the androcratic one we now have discussed, that seems less conducive for sustainable and equitable futures for human civilization. Can the gylanic partnership model be instrumental in answering some of the questions that where posed during the Experimental Winter School? How to build humane industrial societies? How to prevent further ecological deterioration and climate change? How to increase joyful living and peace?
Figure 2: Building a Partnership World: Four Cornerstones; Image form the May 16, 2019 Webinar with Riane Eisler and Karin Walch by the Center of Partnership Studies
Further research on the partnership model in the context of Myanmar and the University of Life and Peace
Women’s or feminist issues are human rights issues. The poorest of the poor in the world continue to be women and children through a variety of culturally determined factors22. Women that are able to make their own choices about when to have children have better opportunities to provide the children they have with proper education. Women who are able to work outside the house have an income. Women who have legal rights to defend themselves and property rights to agriculture land, who have access to education, those women develop skills to assert themselves. To raise half of the world population to an equal standard could mean an enormous step in ensuring human rights are met, for men, women and non-binary people on a global level.
As discussed during the winter school, it is the lack of enforced human rights and primary needs that are consistently failed to be met, as much as the issue of growing (income) inequality, that stand in the way of many sustainable pathways. In a webinar on the 16th of May hosted by the Center of Partnership Studies, Riane Eisler and Karen Walch23 discussed strategies for non-dominating leadership and negotiation in a partnership mode. Eisler presented the four cornerstones (figure 2) that should be the focus if we want to achieve a partnership world; 1. Family/childhood, 2. gender, 3. narratives and language and 4. economics. I see many points of overlap with the priorities that have been identified during the Experimental Winter School for the University of Life and Peace. As women are still the primary care-takers of children it is very important for the (future) of human capital of the world that women are safe, healthy and get the opportunity of general well-being.
We know from neuroscience that brain development during pregnancy and in the first years of life are decisive. This should be of concern not only to mothers and fathers, but to the whole of society. Healthy and happy mothers mean that children have a better chance to grow up healthy and happy. Supporting human and civil rights, of women and children in particular seems therefore of paramount importance in finding effective pathways of building humane societies that are conducive for managing our ecosystems in ways that is less destructive and more cooperative with nature. In order to achieve this, women, need to get their voices and viewpoints heard. Their narratives and interests have to be on the table.
Furthermore, there is a necessity to create and tell new stories about what is means to be human. Eisler concludes the Chalice end the Blade with a possible future where “the minds of children will no longer be fettered. [..] A world where limitation and fear will no longer be systematically taught to us though myths of the inevitability of evil and innate perversity of human beings. Children in this world will not be taught epics about men who are honoured for being violent or fairy tales about children being lost in frightful woods where women are malevolent witches. They will be taught new myths, epics and stories in which human beings are good; men are peaceful; and the power of creativity and love is the governing principle. (C&B, p.203)”
The Chalice and the Blade provides us with a gender-based framework for viewing the world and provides us with numerous supportive examples that have resonance in the world 30 years after its initial publication. From the work and examples post-1988 I have discussed, we can see that not much has changed with regard to the existence a global dominator superstructure. In recent years more self-centered politicians have gained powerful executive positions in the name of protectionist and traditional values. Steps towards a carbon neutral world are not progressing fast enough. Of course, there are more positive stories to tell but with this report paper I have tried to address the issue of real gender imbalances in the world today and then, to suggest academic concepts for their scientific study.
Gender is a concept that we have not discussed during the winter school, which often seems to be the fate of this topic. Gender-based science stills finds itself in its infancy but does provide ground-breaking and refreshing insights into our past and some of the world most urgent issues of today. Eisler’s book provides a framework and the basis for new narratives about our world and human nature. A side of human nature that is more focused on joyful and peaceful living, and arguably in closer harmony with nature, as it does not have to compete but only has to cooperate with nature as it finds itself as an integral part of it.
Because of the primarily European focus of the book it would be very interesting to apply the androcracy/gylancy dynamics, dominator/partnership lens to other parts of the world and specifically in the context of South and South-East Asia given the location of the University of Life and Peace. In the Real Wealth of Nations, Creating a Caring Economy (2008)24 Eisler discusses present-day gylanic societies in the Philippines and Indonesia (footnote 12). My question would be whether there are for instance current micro- meso or macro level examples of partnership model co-operation in Myanmar, India or China? In this paper we discussed examples of androcracy/gylancy dynamics of Judaism and Christianity mainly. How do Buddhism, Hinduism and the other world religion look through the gylanic/androcratic lens? What is the linguistic basis of the dominator and partnership models? Are sustainable systems inherently more gylanic? What do brain scientists have to say about the Goddess Theory of prehistory and the Cultural Transformation Theory? There are many questions remaining and my hope is that the University of Life and Peace can make it its focus to answer some of these questions.
I would like to thank Zen Master Hsin Tao for his invitation to join the Experimental Winter School in Yangon in January 2019 and for giving me the opportunity to write this report. It is my hope my contribution will be of use in the further development in the establishment of the University of Life and Peace, which even in its concept phase has had a positive impact on me. May the University have a very positive effect on the people of Myanmar, on academia and on the protection of our biosphere.
1Center for Partnership Studies
2A name I personally find ironic as there was nothing cold or in-active about it in on the African continent, where devastating proxy-wars where fought that leave populations scarred and traumatized until today.
3Eisler, R., & Eisler, R. T. (2008). The real wealth of nations: Creating a caring economics. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
4Eisler, R., & Eisler, R. T. (2008). The real wealth of nations: Creating a caring economics. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
5Gimbutas, M. (1973). Old Europe c. 7000-3500 BC: The earliest European civilization before the infiltration of the Indo-European peoples. Journal of Indo-European Studies.
6Androcracy is not an orginal term of Eisler. She mentions this in the book also.
7National Geographic on findings of Dean Snow (2013)
8Ucko, P. J., & Rosenfeld, A. (1967). Palaeolithic cave art. McGraw-Hill.
9Marshack, A. (1991). The roots of civilization: The cognitive beginnings of man's first art, symbol and notation. Moyer Bell Ltd.
10Leroi-Gourhan, A., Vertut, J., Leroi-Gourhan, A., Leroi-Gourhan, A., Philologue, F., Leroi-Gourhan, A., & Philologist, F. (1983). Préhistoire de l'art occidental. L. Mazenod.
11Tignor, R. L. (2011). Egypt: A short history. Princeton University Press.
12 Hawkes, J., & Harissiades, D. (1968). Dawn of the Gods (p. 132). New York: Random House.
13Banaz A Love Story about the murder of Banaz Mahmod in South London in 2013, by filmmaker Deeyah Khan
14Sharia for Women - Ted talk by Anni Cyrus
15Only in later Hindu text Vishnu Smriti (25.14) and Parasara Smriti (4.29-31) (700-1000 CE)
16Chaupadi is offically illegal in Nepal since 2005 but still practiced commonly. The tradition of seggregation of women during their period is also observed in Africa. Where it is not Hindu based.
17The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in countries where the practice is concentrated. Furthermore, there are an estimated 3 million girls at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year. The majority of girls are cut before they turn 15 years old.
18In later books she did provide examples for modern day gylanic societies. Mainly in South-East Asia. These are in general less complex societies such as that of the Teduray people of the Phillipines or the Minangkabau people of Indonesia, but also the predominant partnership orientation of the Nordic countries of Europe are mentioned in ‘The Real Wealth of Nations’ (2007)
19Dashú, M. (2005). Knocking Down Straw Dolls: A Critique of Cynthia Eller's The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory. Feminist Theology, 13(2), 185-216.
20Dashu refers her to book The inevitability of patriarchy (1973).
21The Carbon Clock
222018 World Bank blog – Carola Sanchez Paramo
23Walch, K. S., Mardyks, S. M., & Schmitz, J. (2017). Quantum Negotiation: The Art of Getting what You Need. John Wiley & Sons.
24Eisler, R., & Eisler, R. T. (2008). The real wealth of nations: Creating a caring economics. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.