Riane Eisler describes how humankind once lived in a caring, sharing environment. That period, which lasted for tens of thousands of years, survived, though barely, just into historical times. It was characterized by a worship of the divine feminine as represented by the chalice in the title of Eisler’s book.
In a blink of the eye, historically speaking, that environment was brutally overthrown and replaced with the beginnings of the patriarchy in which we live today. Those who overthrew this golden age worshipped not life and creativity, but death and destruction; in short, the blade. Those in power today continue to worship that blade, which has been changed by the rapid rise of technology into the lethal systems that could end all life on the planet in a matter of days or hours.
The premise of The Chalice and the Blade is that the rapid transition from a partnership society to a male dominator society was the result of the sociological equivalent of a “critical bifurcation point” in Chaos theory. Eisler explains in some detail how the currently popular scientific theory applies to that sudden shift into darkness that occurred approximately six or seven thousand years ago. However, she also goes on to propose that we once again face a critical bifurcation point; that we live in an exciting, dangerous time in which we can just as rapidly overthrow our hierarchically controlled patriarchal system and replace it with a technologically advanced model of the partnership system in which both genders work together to emphasize the nurturing side of life.
That’s the theory, anyway.
I found the early part of The Chalice and the Blade fascinating. Eisler frequently quotes such notables as Marija Gimbutas and James Mellaart, whose archaeological findings are the supporting pillars in Wiccan/Pagan cosmology. In fact, my only complaint about the first two-thirds of the book is that Eisler often refers to specific photos in the books of those two authors, but does not reproduce the photos in The Chalice and the Blade. Not a problem if you have the other works at hand; however, not everyone does.
About a third of the way from the end of the book, however, I began to lose interest. This is the point at which Eisler begins to explain how our age has reached that critical point in which we can effect a rapid transformation of our patriarchal (dominator) society into anything we want–in particular, the partnership model that would truly represent a maturing of our species. So why did I lose interest? Eisler’s theory is the stuff of dreams.
I would give almost anything to return to a Chalice-oriented social structure. However, Eisler just didn’t convince me that we have reached that critical bifurcation point. She labors long on man’s cruelty to woman and what things might be like; too long, by a good measure. Of course, in the vernacular of the internet, YMMV (your mileage may vary).
Having lived in those heady days of revolution known as the sixties, I’m a little more realistic about the pace at which change occurs. However, those days also taught me that persistence is how to bring change about. For that reason, I can criticize Eisler for her verbosity, but not her persistence.
If you’ve read Mellaart and Gimbutas, you might want to pass on reading The Chalice and the Blade. However, if your Goddess history is a little weak, you should take a look at this book to fill in the gaps. ~ Yona