Chalice and the Blade
- Book: The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future by Riane Eisler, 1987
Eisler does not use the term "patriarchy." Nor does she use "matriarchy" to describe a more gender-balanced society, noting rule by fathers (patriarchy) and rule by mothers (matriarchy) can be two sides of a dominator coin. She proposed the real alternative is a partnership system or Gylany."
"Though the historical dominators have tended to be male (and more recently, on the global stage, white), Eisler holds that her theory of dominator/partnership cultures is not ideology-, gender-, or race-specific. In essence, any human has the propensity to dominate other humans under certain conditions. For Terence McKenna, an American philosopher who praised Eisler’s work, this was an important point: “I don’t see it as a male disease. I think everybody in this room has a far stronger ego than they need. The great thing that Riane Eisler, in her book The Chalice and the Blade, did for this discussion was to de-genderize the terminology. Instead of talking about patriarchy and all this, what we should be talking about is dominator versus partnership society.”
- Jordan Bates, citing Riane Eisler and Terence McKenna 
"The book introduces a new conceptual framework for studying social systems that pays particular attention to how a society constructs the roles and relations between the female and male halves of humanity. It proposes that underlying the long span of human cultural evolution is the tension between what Eisler calls the dominator or domination model and the partnership model."
2. Irina Ateljevic:
"Based on her work as a cultural historian and evolutionary theorist over the last 20 years, Riane Eisler introduced the partnership and the domination system as two underlying possibilities for structuring beliefs, institutions and relations that transcend categories such as religious vs. secular, right vs. left, and technologically developed or underdeveloped. It is her particularly brilliant The Chalice and the Blade (1987), a historical analysis of over 30,000 years that provides us with a refreshing view of our past and ‘givens’ in all areas of our personal, communal, economic and political life. With reference to recent archaeological discoveries Eisler shows that ancient times (before 3500BC) were based on matrifocal values, which did not mean the opposition to patriarchy (i.e. the domination of women over men), but rather that societal organization focused on the values of giving life, fertility, the pleasure to exist, artistic creations and sexual pleasure. However, over time, the life-generating and nurturing powers of the universe, in our time still symbolised by the ancient feminine chalice or grail was replaced by the lethal power of the blade. In the new world, of which we are the last heirs, ‘power’ is no longer viewed as the ability to give life, but is construed as the power to bring death, destroy life, subdue others and be obeyed at all cost. For instance, Eisler provides a new interpretation of ‘original sin’ and the beginning of Genesis in the Bible as a text that represents the shift from the ‘old’ matrifocal symbols to the patriarchal myth in which the tree of life and wisdom becomes an evil and the sacred Eros between man and woman becomes the shameful act.
In deconstructing the long history of domination, Eisler provides a beacon for our tired world of ongoing mistrust, blood, misery and injustice. By transcending the trap of polarised thinking she offers a way forward by pointing to the partnership model in which social structure is more generally egalitarian, with difference (be it gender, race, religion, sexual preference or belief system) not automatically associated with superior or inferior social and/or economic status. Females and males are equally valued in the governing ideology and stereotypically feminine values such as nurturance, caring and non-violence can be given operational primacy without resulting in stereotyping of gender roles. Furthermore, in partnership models of society, the spiritual dimension of the life-giving and sustaining powers of both nature and women is recognised and highly valued, as are these powers in men. Spirituality is linked with empathy and equity, and the divine is imaged through myths and symbols of unconditional love. Human relations are held together by pleasure bonds rather than by fear of pain. The pleasures of caring behaviours are socially supported, and pleasure is associated with empathy for others. Caretaking, love-making and other activities that give pleasure are considered sacred. The highest power is the power to give, nurture, and illuminate life. Love is recognised as the highest expression of the evolution of life on our planet, as well as the universal unifying power (Eisler, 1996, p. 403-405). In providing us with an impressive range of world-wide evidence of personal, communal and economic initiatives, organisations and policies Eisler claims (in a similar vein as all the authors cited above) that we are finally witnessing the world-wide movement towards a partnership system (Eisler, 1996, 2002) of caring economics (Eisler, 2007). She asserts that the reason why we do not hear much about this movement in the media is because it is not centralised and coordinated under a single unifying name and: “without a name, it’s almost as if it didn’t exist, despite all the progress around us” (Eisler, 2002, p. xxi).
In her latest groundbreaking work on the Real Wealth of Nations (Eisler, 2007) she deconstructs Adam Smith’s theory of the invisible hand of the market as the best mechanism for producing and distributing the necessities of life to unpack its deep-seated culture of domination and exploitation that has devalued all activities which fall out outside of the market’s parameters of buying and selling. Instead she proposes that the slowly emerging caring economics takes into account the full spectrum of economic activities of the household, from the life enriching activities of caregivers and communities to the life-supporting processes of nature. In juxtaposition to the overwhelming evidence of structural inequalities and social injustices of the domination system, she provides evidence and many practical proposals for new economic inventions—new measures, policies, rules, and practices— to bring about a caring economics that fulfils human needs. In the many examples given, such as high-quality care for children, she also uses a purely financial cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate how caring is one of the best investments a nation can make. In her insightful economic analysis of policies and their (in)effectiveness around the world, she convincingly shows how the dominant culture of the double economic standard of valorising ‘productive’ over caring activities actually influences economic policies and practices. Eisler’s claims of emerging critical and caring businesses is further supported by the evidence that many mainstream businesses are re-questioning the main purpose of their bottom-line existence (i.e., going for profit only) which has led to the concept of spiritual economy and spiritual entrepreneurs conscious of her/his missions towards the common good of humanity (see Allee, 2003; Harman, 1998; Stewart, 2002; World Business Academy, 2009)."
3. From the Wikipedia:
"The Chalice and the Blade compares two underlying types of social organization in which the cultural construction of gender roles and relations plays a key role. Eisler places human societies on what she calls the partnership-domination continuum. On one end of the continuum are societies orienting to the partnership model. On the other end are societies orienting to the dominator or domination model. These categories transcend conventional categories such as ancient vs. modern, Eastern vs. Western, religious vs. secular, rightist vs. leftist, and so on.
The domination model ranks man over man, man over woman, race over race, and religion vs. religion, with difference equated with superiority or inferiority. This model consists of an authoritarian structure in both family and state or tribe, rigid male dominance, and a high degree of abuse and violence. The partnership model consists of a democratic and egalitarian structure in both the family and state or tribe, with hierarchies of actualization where power is empowering rather than disempowering (as in hierarchies of domination). There is also gender partnership and a low degree of abuse and violence, as it is not needed to maintain rigid top down rankings.
The Chalice and the Blade traces the tension between these two models, starting in prehistory. It draws from many sources, including the study of myth and linguistics as well as archeological findings by the Indo-Europeanists J. P. Mallory and Marija Gimbutas and archeologists such as James Mellaart,[ Alexander Marshack, Andre Leroi-Gourhan, and Nikolas Platon.
Based on these findings, The Chalice and the Blade presents evidence that for the longest span of our prehistory, cultures in the more fertile regions of our globe oriented primarily to the partnership model, which Eisler also calls a "gylany", a neologism for a society in which relationships between the sexes are an egalitarian partnership. This gender partnership was a core component of a more egalitarian, peaceful, and matrifocal culture with a focus on life-giving, centering on nurture. These societies once were widespread in Europe around the Mediterranean, and lasted well into the early Bronze Age in the Minoan civilization of Crete.
But then there was a cultural transformation during a chaotic time of disequilibrium related to climate change and incursions of warlike, nomadic tribes. These peoples brought with them a domination system and imposed rigid rankings of domination, including the rigid domination by men of women and the equation of “real masculinity” with domination and violence. This led to a radical cultural transformation.
Eisler’s book is not the only work describing this massive cultural shift from a perspective that pays special attention to a radical change in gender relations. Other scholars have also written about it; for example, historian Gerda Lerner details it in her Oxford University book "The Creation of Patriarchy".
However, Eisler does not use the term “patriarchy.” Nor does she use “matriarchy” to describe a more gender-balanced society, noting that rule by fathers (patriarchy) and rule by mothers (matriarchy) are two sides of a dominator coin, and proposing that the real alternative is a partnership system or gylany.
Nonetheless, some critics have accused Eisler of writing about a “matriarchy” in prehistoric times, and, according to them, of claiming that earlier societies where women were not subordinate were ideal. Eisler does point out that the more partnership-oriented societies described in The Chalice and the Blade were more peaceful and generally equitable, but she emphasizes that were not ideal. She further makes it clear that the point is not returning to any “utopia” but rather using what we learn from our past to move forward to a more equitable and sustainable future.There are also archaeologists who question that these earlier societies were more peaceful, especially critiques of Marija Gimbutas, one or Eisler’s sources. This critique fits the conventional narrative of cultural evolution as a linear progression from “barbarism” to “civilization” - a narrative Eisler challenges in light of the brutality of “civilizations” ranging from Chinese, Indian, Arab, and European empires to Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.
In addition, some archaeologists question whether the great profusion in these earlier cultures of female figurines, going back 30,000 years and perhaps even longer, indicates that they venerated a Goddess or Great Mother. Indeed, when these figurines were first excavated in the 19th century, the men who found them in millennia-old caves seemed to think they were an ancient kind of pornography, and called them Venus figures (a term still used today). But these sculptures are highly stylized, often pregnant, and sometimes with no facial features—hardly the stuff of pornography. So today this notion has largely been discarded. Instead, some archaeologists contend that these stone sculptures are dolls. But the idea that prehistoric artists created these figurines for little girls flies in the face of the fact that these are nude figures with highly accentuated vulvas and breasts—hardly what one would associate with children’s play. Moreover, some of these female sculptures could not be dolls since they are not portable. For instance, the famous Venus of LaSalle is carved on the rock facade of the entrance to a cave, which, as Eisler suggests in The Chalice and the Blade, was most probably the site of ancient religious rites celebrating the life-giving and sustaining powers inherent in woman’s body and in our Mother Earth." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chalice_and_the_Blade)
"In the domination system, somebody has to be on top and somebody has to be on the bottom. People learn, starting in early childhood, to obey orders without question. They learn to carry a harsh voice in their heads telling them they’re no good, they don’t deserve love, they need to be punished. Families and societies are based on control that is explicitly or implicitly backed up by guilt, fear, and force. The world is divided into in-groups and out-groups, with those who are different seen as enemies to be conquered or destroyed.
In contrast, the partnership system supports mutually respectful and caring relations. Because there is no need to maintain rigid rankings of control, there is also no built-in need for abuse and violence. Partnership relations free our innate capacity to feel joy, to play. They enable us to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This is true for individuals, families, and whole societies. Conflict is an opportunity to learn and to be creative, and power is exercised in ways that empower rather than disempower others."
From the Wikipedia:
"Eisler highlights the tension between what she calls the dominator or domination model and the more naturally feminine partnership model. Eisler proposes tension between these two underlies the span of human cultural evolution. She traces this tension in Western culture from prehistory to the present.
The book closes with two contrasting future scenarios. These challenge conventional views about cultural evolution up to the time of the book's publication. The book is now in 26 foreign editions, including most European languages as well as Chinese, Japanese, Urdu, Korean, Arabic, Hebrew, and Turkish. Briefly her thesis is despite old narratives about an inherently flawed humanity, more and more evidence shows humanity is not doomed to perpetuate patterns of violence and oppression. Female values offer a partnership alternative with deep roots in the pre-Patriarchy paradigm of cultural evolution. No utopia is predicted; rather, a way of structuring society in more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable ways is envisioned.
The method of social analysis in the book is multidisciplinary in its study of relational dynamics. In contrast to earlier studies of society, this method concerns what kinds of social systems support the human capacity for consciousness, caring, and creativity, or conversely for insensitivity, cruelty, and destructiveness.
The study of relational dynamics is an application of systems analysis: the study of how different components of living systems interact to maintain one another and the larger whole of which they are a part. Drawing from a trans-disciplinary database, it applies this approach to a wide-ranging exploration of how humans think, feel, and behave individually and in groups. Its sources include cross-cultural anthropological and sociological surveys, and studies of individual societies as well as writings by historians, analyses of laws, moral codes, art, literature, scholarship from psychology, economics, education, political science, philosophy, religious studies, archaeology, the study of myths and legends; and data from more recent fields such as primatology, neuroscience, chaos theory, systems self-organizing theory, non-linear dynamics, gender studies, women's studies, and men's studies.
A distinguishing feature of the study of relational dynamics pays particular attention to matters marginalized or ignored in conventional male-oriented studies. It highlights the importance of how a society constructs relations between the male and female halves of humanity, as well as between them and their daughters and sons, taking into account findings from both the biological and social sciences showing the critical importance of the "private" sphere of family and other intimate relations in shaping beliefs and behaviors.
The author compares two underlying types of social organization in which the cultural construction of gender roles and relations is key. Eisler places human societies on what she calls the partnership-domination continuum. At one end of the continuum are societies oriented to the partnership model. At the other are societies oriented to the dominator or domination model. These categories transcend conventional categories such as ancient vs. modern, Eastern vs. Western, religious vs. secular, rightist vs. leftist, and so on.
The domination model ranks man over man, man over woman, race over race, and religion vs. religion, with difference equated with superiority or inferiority. It comprises an authoritarian structure in both family and state or tribe, rigid male dominance, and a high degree of abuse and violence. The partnership model consists of a democratic and egalitarian structure in both the family and state or tribe, with hierarchies of actualization where power is empowering rather than disempowering (as in hierarchies of domination). There is also gender partnership and a low degree of abuse and violence, as it is not needed to maintain rigid top-down rankings."
Gylany, the concept for the partnership system
From the Wikipedia:
"In this book, Eisler traces tensions between these two models, starting in prehistory. It draws from many sources, including the study of myth and linguistics as well as archeological findings by the Indo-Europeanists J. P. Mallory and Marija Gimbutas and archeologists such as James Mellaart, Alexander Marshack, Andre Leroi-Gourhan,[ and Nikolas Platon.
Based on these findings, Eisler presents evidence how for the longest span of prehistory, cultures in the more fertile regions of the globe oriented primarily to the partnership model, which Eisler also calls a "gylany", a neologism for a society in which relationships between the sexes are an egalitarian partnership. This gender partnership was a core component of a more egalitarian, peaceful, and matrifocal culture with a focus on life-giving, centering on nurture. These societies once were widespread in Europe around the Mediterranean, and lasted well into the early Bronze Age in the Minoan civilization of Crete.
Later, culture skewed towards Patriarchy during a chaotic time of upheaval related to climate change and incursions of warlike, nomadic tribes. These peoples brought with them a domination system and imposed rigid rankings of domination, including the rigid domination by men of women and the equation of "real masculinity" with power and violence. This led to radical cultural transformation.
Eisler's book is not the only work describing this massive cultural shift. Other scholars have paid special attention to a radical change in gender relations. Historian Gerda Lerner details it in her Oxford University book The Creation of Patriarchy.
However, Eisler does not use the term "patriarchy." Nor does she use "matriarchy" to describe a more gender-balanced society, noting rule by fathers (patriarchy) and rule by mothers (matriarchy) can be two sides of a dominator coin. She proposed the real alternative is a partnership system or gylany."
- “It wasn’t until ~5000 BC that the dominator model appeared in the form of “nomadic bands” from peripheral areas that attacked the preexisting civilizations, which were all partnership societies. Defense mechanisms like trenches and ramparts—previously nonexistent—gradually appeared. ‘These repeated incursions and ensuing culture shocks and population shifts were concentrated in three major thrusts,’ wrote Eisler, calling these ‘Wave No. 1’ (4300-4200 BC), ‘Wave No. 2’ (3400-3200 BC), and ‘Wave No. 3’ (3000-2900 BC). ‘At the core of the invaders’ system was the placing of higher value on the power that takes, rather than gives, life,’ observed Eisler. As the dominators conquered, they also began to suppress the old way of living, which meant suppressing worship of the Goddess, which meant the marginalization of women in general. The Goddess, and women, Eisler claimed, ‘were reduced to male consorts or concubines. Gradually male dominance, warfare, and the enslavement of women and of gentler, more ‘effeminate’ men became the norm.'” (Tao Lin, )
Eisler argues that cultures based on domination arose somewhat spontaneously, probably during a period of relative chaos. This period may have been caused by rising populations, scarcity of resources, natural disaster, or a number of other possibilities. Partnership societies, unprepared in terms of both attitude and technology, were naturally conquered, destroyed, and suppressed by dominator peoples/societies.
The cause of the rise of the dominator system is less important than its implications for the world that would develop over the next 7,000 years (and still exists today)—a world in which the partnership model has been all but forgotten, in which war has become the norm, in which women, poor people, various races/ethnicities, and numerous other groups have been systematically subjugated and oppressed, in which the very possibilities of human life have been greatly restricted by the idea that everyone must “know his place” and submit to authority, or else.
Though the historical dominators have tended to be male (and more recently, on the global stage, white), Eisler holds that her theory of dominator/partnership cultures is not ideology-, gender-, or race-specific. In essence, any human has the propensity to dominate other humans under certain conditions. For Terence McKenna, an American philosopher who praised Eisler’s work, this was an important point:
- “I don’t see it as a male disease. I think everybody in this room has a far stronger ego than they need. The great thing that Riane Eisler, in her book The Chalice and the Blade, did for this discussion was to de-genderize the terminology. Instead of talking about patriarchy and all this, what we should be talking about is dominator versus partnership society.”
McKenna, who famously coined the meme, “Culture is not your friend.,” also said this of Eisler’s work:
- “Her position is that it is the tension between these two forms of social organization and the over-expression of the dominator model that is responsible for our alienation [from nature, from ourselves, and from each other]. I am in complete agreement with Eisler’s view.”
On the historical evidence since 1987
From the Wikipedia:
"Since The Chalice and the Blade was published in 1987, new findings support its thesis of earlier gender equality as part of a more peaceful and equitable social system. For example, writing of the Minoan civilization that flourished on the Mediterranean island of Crete until c. 3500 years ago, the Greek archeologist Nanno Marinatos confirmed that his was a culture in which women played major roles in a religion where a Goddess was venerated. Marinatos also notes that this was a more peaceful culture that, unlike other “high-civilizations” of that time was not a slave society, on the contrary, exhibiting a generally high standard of living for all.
Also confirming the description of earlier Neolithic cultures in The Chalice and the Blade is Ian Hodder, the archeologist excavating Çatalhöyük, one of the largest Neolithic sites found to date. In his 2004 Scientific American article Hodder wrote: “Even analyses of isotopes in bones give no indication of divergence in lifestyle translating into differences in status and power between women and men.” He further noted that this points to “a society in which sex is relatively unimportant in assigning social roles, with neither burials nor space in houses suggesting gender inequality.” In short, Hodder explicitly confirms that gender equity was a key part of a more partnership-oriented social configuration in this more generally equitable early farming site where there are no signs of destruction through warfare for over 1,000 years.
Going back further, to the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, another body of research that supports Eisler’s proposal that this period also oriented more to the partnership side of the domination-partnership continuum is on contemporary foraging societies, especially the anthologies edited by anthropologist Douglas P. Fry. This work is directly relevant to prehistoric times because for most of the millennia of our earliest cultural evolution our species lived in foraging groups. Fry’s 2013 anthology of articles by scholars studying these types of societies documents that the vast majority of them are characterized by the more peaceful, gender balanced, and generally egalitarian configuration of the partnership model.
Data from other world regions also supports the thesis of an earlier partnership direction. For example, after The Chalice and the Blade was published in China by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a group of scholars at the Academy wrote a book showing that there was also in Chinese prehistory a massive cultural shift from more partnership-oriented cultures to a system of rigid domination in both the family and the state.
In short, despite old narratives about an inherently flawed humanity, more and more evidence shows that we are not doomed to perpetuate patterns of violence and oppression. We have a partnership alternative with deep roots in the earlier direction of our cultural evolution—not a utopia, but a way of structuring society in more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable ways." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Chalice_and_the_Blade)