riane eisler

Warriors, Chariots and Invasions

    The feminist pre-historians tell a different story. Diamond never mentions it, or them, or the other world historians. To treat the origin, growth and collapse of civilizations without referencing Arnold Toynbee's Study of History, is an egregious oversight that  is all too typical in an  age of third-rate self-seeking epigoni.

    In the feminist myth, the peaceful cultures of the archaic peoples suffered a catastrophic end. I’ll tell the end first, then the beginnings.
    Into the relatively peaceful Neolithic world, armed nomadic bands intruded, some mounted on horseback or driving chariots. They came from the steppes of central Asia, pushed west and south by migrating people behind them. The migrating bands raided the agricultural set-tlements, some now sizeable towns. As early as 7- 8000 BCE the archeological records show defensive city walls being built in Jericho and elsewhere.

                                        jericho walls
In the agricultural world, the old male hunting groups became the field workers, artisans, potters, smithies, and artists. When needed, they defended the walls. They patrolled the perimeter and maintained security. A standing military presence was established.
    Inside the city, food was stored in defensible warehouses. Later, bureaucrats kept written tallies. Deposits and withdrawals were recorded. The people dug wells, cisterns, and city walls to protect themselves against long sieges. Military outposts far away from the capitol guarded the frontiers. Bronze Age weaponry appeared.
    Mythic tales of warfare abound. Artists depict battle scenes with heroic values glorifying conquest, endurance and harsh treatment of captives.

mesopotamian war sceneCross-cultural myths depict a long war between the invaders and the settlers. One story has the displaced male hunters, now deprived of power, holding on to their prestige by forming secret societies, and from these groups misogynistic conspiracies were hatched. Another theory has it that the deposed male hunter societies successfully plot-ted a takeover of the matriarchal society by opening the city gates to the invaders. In time, the invaders won, settled down and ruled in a new way. As the armed defenders of the matriarchies, the warriors be-came the de facto negotiators with their patriarchal conquerors. Male to male agreements were made.
A struggle between the temple and palace ensued, of centralized over decentralized institutions, of hierarchy over webs of relationship, of technology over nature, of oppression and conquest over coopera-tion. With the take-over of the grain storehouses, the male dominated kingships secured their hold on power.  The sacred function of the smithy declines and iron weapons are widely supplied to standing ar-mies under the rule of kings or warlords. The mythology changes again. Now a male sky god wars with the mother god of earth, and 
defeats her. The early literate civilizations in Sumer, Egypt and in the Indus valley already reflect the victory of the invaders who assimilated the indigenous culture and changed it.                                                                                                                                                   
    In the river valley civilizations, the trend is for a centralized authority to rule. An organized male leadership class, perhaps first a council of elders, then a chief, then priests and priestesses, nobles and kings, emerges to define the customs of the clan, the laws of the state, and the relationships to the gods.
With the priestly classes comes legally enforced religious calendars, primogeniture, laws of inheritance, codes and records. The early hieratic city-states institutionalize a concentrated male political and spiritual authority. And with this system, given good climate and surpluses, and inventiveness and ambition, commercial empires trading over thousands of miles build up. Poets celebrate war as an heroic human virtue.


    New institutions and
technologies come to depend increasingly on advance planning, permanent administration and traegyptian rulersnsmitted orders. Clear lines of communication, built on technical language and laws, on the rational capacities of administrators, carry the orders. Arithmetic for commercial bookkeeping and geometry for surveying and building develop. Natural dominance gives way to a royal or priestly class whose holdings and hierarchies eventually lead to private property. Lawgivers become culture heroes.
    In the male centered successor regimes, approach-separation and withdrawal-return, long risen from their embedded condition in dispersal-aggregation, and already matured into personal love and wisdom, fall increasingly under the shaping power of property and hierarchical dominance.They find their expression in marriage moieties, inheri-tance laws, castes, clans, economic classes, and ownership relations. Here, boun
d aggression definitively breaks from its ties with love and wisdom to support social order, material culture and competitive ad-vantage in territoriality and social dominance. These interests are ad-vanced ahead of and sometimes in defiance of personal, familial and household interests.
    Love and wisdom henceforth function inside of property dominance. The leading classes put wisdom in the service of invention, discovery and statecraft. They use its accomplishments for the aggrandizement of state territory, property and status. Priests and kings rule.


    Starting with the hieratic states, in my reinterpretation of feminist prehistory, the exploration of the possibilities in human nature, so prominent among the small-scale indigenous Epipaleolithic societies, narrows. With their populous cities, great monuments, earthworks, armies and bureaucracies, political control takes on new roles. Aggression, still tied to the ethological rhythms keyed to habitat resources, is further liberated.
    In the early empires, aggression begins to be recruited by reason (and itself recruits reason) for new purposes, from fielding permanent armies to building pyramids, to enslaving whole populations, to collecting taxes. The sheer scale of the productions, and the organized labor needed to run them, have lasting impacts on the rhythms of life, subordinating them to a cultural calendar that less and less reflects the cycles of nature.
    Since then, our ways of belonging have destabilized. The deployment of attention between inwardness and outwardness has been continuously revised. Love and wisdom have taken on new inflections in both the public and private spheres.
    These shifts, whatever their content, typically effect one pole of the dynamic more than another. Approach is favored over separation, return over withdrawal or vice versa. The pole that is perturbed in the greatest number of people over the widest area and for the longest time shapes the course of historical change. After each of these changes, the stress/aggression threshold has to be reset. It has to function differently within each person, and between different segments of the society.


    Written history begins with patriarchal rule. The pre-invasion indigenous people are nearly blotted out of the historical record, only to reappear in a shadowy way in the sacred texts of the successor regimes. Sarah the priestess with her own grove and acolytes becomes the wife of Abraham. Significant portions of humanity begin to live in a new world ruled over by distant patriarchal gods who are abstract, absent, not made of the same stuff as humans, unlike the Great Mother, whose children were consubstantial with her. We enter the world of separation. Power relationships predominate. Men rule over women. For the first time master/slave societies develop.
    hammurabi's codeIn our terms, in the early patriarchal civilizations, the dominance quilt takes the revolutionary step of redefining social distance regulation by pulling it away from actual encounters between individuals and framing it instead in terms of social, economic and gender-based classes.23 The kindled aggression that once sustained dominance in actual personal distance disputes, by rejecting the “quilt” of social distances in favor of the hierarchical “pyramid”, takes on a more abstract but no less compelling order – a patriarchal system buttressed by rules, rewards and punishments. Property, birth order, social class and hierarchical status determine our possibilities and once it is codified in laws, it becomes the system by which love and wisdom are regulated.
    By opening or foreclosing possibilities for love and wisdom, property dominance comes to redefine action, and the meaning of life and the worth of deeds. Henceforth wealth, class and access determine the times and spaces in which the different kinds of love can flourish. It says who can meet whom,
which liaisons are permitted, which prohibited. It establishes kinship rules and the laws of inheritance, and wisdom loses its revolutionary potential too. It becomes esoteric. Freelance shamanic voyaging is marginalized in favor of an organized priesthood.24
    In ancient Chinese culture, the Buddhist and Taoist sages become wanderers and recluses.

                                                            taoist wanderers


    All large-scale societies require a dual strategy that both invigorates and suppresses natural dominance relationships. The state needs secondary institutions built on natural dominance to support its policies, its marriage and inheritance laws, and its belief systems. However, in large-scale venues, tensions build up between the abstract, law-driven dominance system and the flaring sparks of natural dominance. It is usually resolved in favor of large-scale property arrangements, protected by the laws, priesthood and police arm of the state.
    But in every civilization, the balance is set differently. So emergent natural dominance still affects property relations, influences how business partnerships form and dissolve and how boards of directors manage their enterprises, etc. In large polities, natural community harnessed to existing property and economic relations becomes a basic tool for state building. But sometimes the balances shift. In turbulent times, natural dominance can flare up and struggle against the established power structure and even win, as in the velvet revolutions that overthrew the communist regimes in Eastern Europe in the 1990s.


    Patriarchal civilizations may have won, as Jared Diamond and others define victory, but feminist prehistorians make the case that in the victory human nature lost its sensitive growing tip. In The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler definitely treats this historical transformation as a fall from grace. She makes gender conflict central to it .

“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 authori-tarian. Women—who as a group are physically smaller and weaker than men, and who are most closely identified with the old view of power symbolized by the life-giving and sustaining chalice—are now gradually reduced to the status they are to hold hereafter: male-controlled technologies of production and reproduction.”25

   innana In her story, male domination engulfs history in all large polities, ending “a long period of peace and prosperity when our social, technological and cultural evolution moved upward: many thousands of years when all the basic technologies on which civilization is built were developed in societies that were not dominant, violent and hierarchical.”26


Women: The Chalice and the Blade

    In exploring alternatives to the myth of material technological dominance, Eisler points out that “almost universally, those places where the great breakthroughs in material and social technology were made had one feature in common: the worship of the Goddess.”27
    With other scholars, she argues that the fundamental social forms in the Neolithic gardening communities were woman centered.28  Goddess oriented civilizations ruled the transitional period from Neolithic to the ancient river valley civilizations, and women were given a cosmic dimension associated with the periodicity of the moon. The lunar, menstrual calendar reigned It ran on the sexigesmal system, based on the divisions of the circle into degrees, also a female symbol. The calendar, the garden, the grain and the hearth were presided over by priestesses. The woman became the shaper of the larger species rhythms. “The pantheon reflects a society dominated by the mother. The role of woman was not subject to that of a man, and much that was created between the inception of the Neolithic and the blossoming of the Minoan civilization was a result of that structure in which all resources of human nature, feminine and masculine, were utilized to the full as a creative force.”29
    Women are intermediaries between the worlds, and this feminine sensibility continues down into the Mesopotamian myth of the marriage of Innanna and her consort Dummuzi, that Campbell treats as a late version of an earlier planting culture myth.30
    For Eisler, the high point of a gender equal “cooperator” civilization – and of happiness and creativity – was the Minoan civilization of ancient Crete, originating in 6000 BCE and attaining its final form between 2000-1500 BCE.

                   minoan parisiennes
Minoan “Parisians” from Knossos palace

    Crete achieved “…a social order in which, to quote Nicolas Platon, ‘the fear of death was almost obliterated by the ubiquitous joy of living."31
    Platon, Superintendant of Antiquities in Heraklion, Crete, described

“…vast multi-storied palaces, villas, farmsteads, districts of populous and well-organized cities, harbor installations, networks of roads crossing the island from end to end, organized places of worship and planned burial grounds… the whole of 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. Even among the ruling classes personal ambition seems to have been unknown; nowhere do we find the name of an author attached to a work of art nor the record of the deeds of a ruler.”32

    In the feminist telling of prehistory, the Minoan civilization stood for something particularly hopeful in its ways of being human, of loving, raising families, displaying kinship, expressing gender relationships, developing rites of passage, growing wise, and tempering aggression. By dealing with gender, the feminist prehistorians left in their accounts what others excluded: love and wisdom.
    Eisler may have been overly enthusiastic in her belief in a gender-equal past civilizations, but surely she was right in thinking that gender has always been a central factor in social and cultural organization and has to be carefully considered.


Summary: The Five Epochs of Human Development

    o    In the first stage of its evolution, human nature is embedded in the natural environment. The interface between person and world is immediately responsive to signals from nature; aggression is rhythm conserving; belonging is focused on kin and troop; life is nomadic, and the body is most strongly attuned to the daily dispersal and aggregation rhythm.

    o    In the second stage, beginning in the middle Paleolithic era (50-25,000 BCE), human nature becomes emergent; primordial approach-and-separation and withdrawal-and-return start to be experienced as love and wisdom; we become conscious of our inwardness and can distinguish it from outwardness. Endowed with a sense of self and a capacity to love, the standards for belonging change. When it does, the old distance regulation system breaks down. Aggression, no longer so tightly linked to the management of actual changes in moment-to-moment physical position, begins to explore other kinds of personal space and domination. In the course of time notions of property, ownership, status and rule develop. As they do, the ties between aggression and the conservation of biological rhythms weaken.

    o    In the third stage, (20-10,000 BCE) human nature is expressive. Enlivened by the developing passions of the heart and mind, stimulated by the discoveries made in turning points, it produces vastly different ways of being in the world. A torrent of new inventions, both material and non-material, comes pouring into the shared cultural spaces. These institutions, technologies and physical artifacts transform the environment. Their sensory worlds altered, people begin to see and sense differently. Time runs differently for them. Body attitudes change, set-points shift, sexual activity and fertility rises or falls. The duration of life stages alters. Youth is extended or contracted. This expressive phase begins at the end of the last Ice Age. Rapidly changing environmental conditions spur it on. The expressive period continues into the Neolithic era. New political forms, social contracts, creative endeavors and ecological understandings develop. Earth-altering changes are made: settled life, continuously inhabited villages, division of labor, crop culture, trade and commerce among them. During a 10,000-year span, the transformation brought in by the agricultural revolution spread through Africa and across the Middle East, north into Anatolia, west across North Africa and east into Central Asia.

    o    Then under pressures introduced by these changes, our orientation shifts again. In this fourth stage (5000 BCE – 1800 AC) human nature becomes conflicted, constrained by culture. Human nature has to struggle for breathing room. Life is troubled, split and turned against itself. Freud caught the tenor of this tension in his late work. In New Introductory Lectures, he wrote, “In spite of all our pride in our cultural attainments, it is not easy for us to fulfill the requirements of this civilization or to feel comfortable in it, because the instinctual restrictions imposed on us constitute a heavy psychical burden. Well, what we have come to see about the sexual instincts, applies equally and perhaps still more to the other ones, the aggressive instincts. It is they above all that make human communal life difficult and threaten its survival.”33  In Civilization and its Discontents, he wrote, “Civilization has to use its utmost efforts in order to set limits to man’s aggressive instincts and to hold the manifestations of them in check by psychical reaction-formations… In spite of every effort, these endeavors of civilization have not so far achieved very much “ 34
    In the fourth epoch the aggressive components of human nature take on a new role: they shoe-horn us into civilization itself, not only by using the external powers of the state but by teaching us to manage ourselves from within with repression, guilt and self punishment.

    o    The fifth epoch is just beginning. We inhabit it. The fifth epoch is our field of endeavor. It started with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th century. In it we follow changed conditions of labor and economic regulation. We live with greatly modified signal sources for sensation, coming more frequently from technological rhythms than from nature. These reset the rhythms of life, not always homeostatically.
The fifth epoch gathered steam during the period of European colonialism and imperialism. It pushed us into two World Wars and into the atomic age, under the influence of what President Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex. Fifth epoch enterprise now drives our information revolution, computerized economy, biotechnology, global trade and communications networks. It creates needs, threats and promises uniquely its own. What shall we call the fifth epoch? We shall decide this in the next chapter.

    Here we’ll concluded by drawing from our brief survey three features common to all revolutions in human nature:

    1)    Real revolutions result in altered distance regulation behaviors.

    2)   These change social arrangements (and the physiological responses to them) in one or more of the four social distances.

    3)    The changes enter economic life in altered territorial and dominance relationships.