between the female and male halves of the human species. If you can’t even trust the person you have the most intimate relationship with, how in the world are you ever going to have a harmonious relationship with people of a different color, or of a different belief system? Sexuality has been distorted, beginning with this idea that woman is an object. Unfortunately, we see that in both Eastern and Western cultures. I can’t stress this point enough in terms of twenty-first century spirituality, and it’s hard for some people who have been very attracted by some of the Eastern disciplines, precisely because some of that old partnership core is, like a thread, still a little bit more visible. But look at Buddhism. Look at Hinduism. Look at how dominator-oriented those systems really are. Not all of the sects, of course, but, for example, this whole idea of the Zen master who beats his disciples to “enlighten” them-it really is a dominator approach. Not that there haven’t been survivals of ancient partnership-oriented wisdoms in Eastern traditions. But superimposed on them are dominator religious teachings. In Hinduism you have the caste system, and its justification of brutality by claiming that it’s your karma to be of the lower despised caste and to suffer at the hands of the higher castes. If it’s your karma, why change society? It’s just a way of maintaining a dominator system. Like the Judeo-Christian idea that an inscrutable male God has decreed that we suffer in punishment for disobeying his orders and that all that matters is salvation in a far away heaven, rather than what happens here on earth. If you can’t change misery, oppression, and exploitation because it’s divinely ordained, why bother? That’s how these religions have been used against us. Getting back to sexuality, I think one of the great tasks for the twenty-first century is precisely the reclamation of our uniquely human sexuality, which is not only reproduction-oriented, it is also pleasure-oriented, ecstatically oriented, as in what we today call the pleasure bond. It’s very interesting that when you talk to women, they’re often still hanging on to this earlier view of sexuality. It isn’t this idea of conquest or scoring, as in the dominator male model of sex. It’s the intimacy, the bonding, the sense of connectedness that they want. The ancients recognized that this intimacy, and this pleasure, were divine gifts, the gifts of the Goddess. To them sexuality was sacred. Contrast that with the dominator view that equates sex with men’s domination and humiliation and possession—and often brutalization and even killing-of women, with the dehumanized images of women and of women’s bodies in pornography and advertising. Small wonder there is so much male violence against women! And this of course is not unrelated to the dominator religious teachings that women (and sex) are evil, that really “good” or saintly men do not have intimate sexual contact with women and the dominator ideal that “real” men only do so when they’re clearly dominant, and thus won’t be tainted by the inferior “feminine.”
RMN: Do you feel that polytheism is more generally associated with the feminine principle, and monotheism with the masculine principle? How do you think this applies to the dominator/partnership model?
RIANE: I don’t think that polytheism is necessarily more associated with the feminine principle. But let me try to untangle something about the feminine and the masculine principle first, may I? In my work I stress that the way we define masculinity and femininity is to a very large extent an artificial construct that has arisen primarily out of a dominator society. We are just beginning to understand, for example, that this idea that the yin, the feminine, is passive and pallid is nonsense. One of the themes in earlier religion was the fire, the shamanistic fire of the priestesses, and the active creative sexuality of the Goddess. In fact some of the Hindu Tantric tradition has that in it still. The idea that there is no contemplative element in the masculine, no caring element; that to be masculine is to be assertive, aggressive, and conquering is also a distortion. So talking of the feminine and masculine principle is useful at this point because people make certain associations of clusters of human qualities with them. But I’m hoping that–as a new consciousness for the twenty-first century really develops–we will find other names for these qualities that are essentially gender-neutral qualities, like being active or passive, or being caring and nonviolent or aggressive and violent. Monotheism, as we have known it, has been basically, “My God’s better than your God, and if you don’t believe me I’ll kill you.” That is very much associated with the dominator system. But I think it’s a mistake to describe the earlier religion as a polytheistic religion, because it was more of what I would call–Campbell used the term–synchronistic. I deal with this in The Chalice and the Blade in the chapter on the Legacy of the Goddess. Everybody had a different Goddess, and she had many manifestations, many aspects of the divine. She could be the Creatrix, the grandmother or crone. She could be the Mother Goddess. Or she could be the maiden. But there was also an underlying commonality. Perhaps in Catal Huyuk the Goddess had her own name. In the Balkans, where UCLA archaeologist Marija Gimbutas has done her excavations, they also worshipped the Goddess and she had many of the same attributes, although they may have called her by different names. So I think that the whole distinction between polytheism and monotheism is again a construct of the dominator system. Because what we really have here is a basic recognition of certain universals, but also a recognition of, and respect for, diversity.
DAVID L: In terms of a twenty-first century consciousness, what I increasingly see is a recognition once again of the false dichotomy of this idea of monotheism versus polytheism. Generation after generation, we’ve been sold this idea that monotheism represented the great advance in religion. There were all those pagans worshipping all those gods and goddesses, and we were told how bad that was. There was this great advance that Moses and the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton brought where one god prevailed. Of course, one god–one male god–prevailed. If you were inventing a totalitarian society, that’s exactly what you’d want. You’d say what we’re going to sell all those dumb bunnies out there on is this idea there’s going to be one god, and that god’s going to be male–and of course we’re going to control this god, he’s ours, we the priests who get our money from the rulers. This then not only excludes all those people out there, all the masses, from any sense of direct access to the “higher power” it also excludes the possibility of anything approaching democracy at an early point in history. It condemns the mass of humanity to be in the hands of tyrannical structures century after century after century, by imposing this idea of a false monotheism. The truth about the earlier situation is very difficult for most people to grasp, because–and this is again a function of a dominator system–our minds are firmly imbedded in the either/or mindset. It can’t be both/and; it has to be either/or. Well, if you get out of this bind into the both/and perspective, and you look at the nature of the deity back there, you find both a unity and a plurality. You could have your own goddess for your particular locality, and call it A. And in the next country, people could call their goddess B, and others could have gods they called C or D. But they were all visualized as part of the same overriding deity. And when you had that kind of situation, you didn’t feel compelled to go and beat up your neighbor, and rape all his women, and grab all his possessions, because that would be a breech of a sacred bond. You were all bound together as part of Gaia. This is the kind of peaceful attitude and respect for diversity that was shattered by this system we’ve been sold.
RIANE: But you would not think of women as “your neighbor’s women.” First of all, descent was matrilineal, it went through the mother, and women were not property. So that whole construction you’ve just used, your neighbor and his women, would not be part of that consciousness. Again, you see how the language, the way we’re used to conceptualizing, has trapped us.
DJB: The values of a partnership society are obvious–peace, prosperity, creative expression, etc.-however, in viewing evolution from a holistic perspective, do you see the dominator type of society playing a beneficial role in the larger scheme of things?
RIANE: No. People seem to think that, if you look at evolution, just because something happened, it had to happen. That’s in line with the deterministic, linear, nineteenth century, idea that everything moves in upward stages. Therefore, if we had this dominator phase, then there must have been some kind of great evolutionary design to it. The most basic technologies on which all civilization is based, the fundamentals-agriculture, pottery, the social technologies of organized religion, of law-giving–are rooted in the earlier partnership societies. Now, you do get some real technological leaps when you go into the machine age, and now the electronic age. But I’ve always asked myself the question: what would the industrial revolution have been like in a society that oriented to a partnership model? Would we have built factories where people were cogs in machines? Obviously not. So I think we need to make a distinction between the fact that we have this thrust towards higher technological complexity, and the accident that some of it happened in a time when we oriented very largely to the dominator model, and not