Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body--New Paths to Power and Love

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Riane Eisler shows us how history has consistently promoted the link between sex and violence—and how we can sever this link and move to a politics of partnership rather than domination in all our relations.

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Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body-

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Riane Eisler shows us how history has consistently promoted the link between sex and violence—and how we can sever this link and move to a politics of partnership rather than domination in all our relations.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062502834
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 708,246
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

Riane Eisler is an internationally acclaimed scholar, futurist, and activist, and is codirector of the Center for Partnership Studies in Pacific Grove, California. She is the author of Sacred Pleasure and The Partnership Way.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

From Ritual to Romance:
Sexuality, Spirituality,
and Society

Candles, music, flowers, and wine-these we all know are the stuff of romance, of sex and of love. But candles, flowers, music, and wine are also the stuff of religious ritual, of our most sacred rites.

Why is there this striking, though seldom noted, commonality? Is it just accidental that passion is the word we use for both sexual and mystical experiences? Or is there here some long -- forgotten but still powerful connection? Could it be that the yearning of so many women and men for sex as something beautiful and magical is our long -- repressed impulse toward a more spiritual, and at the same time more intensely passionate, way of expressing sex and love?

Because we have been taught to think of sex as sinful, dirty, titillating, or prurient, the possibility that sex could be spiritual, much less sacred, may seem shocking. Even stranger in a world where female genitals are sometimes described as "cunts" (one of the most obscene swear words in the English language) is the idea that women's bodies -- and particularly women's vaginas -- could be sacred.

Yet the evidence is compelling that for many thousands of yearsmuch longer than the thirty to fifty centuries we call recorded history this was the case. In traditions that go back to the dawn of civilization, the female vulva was revered as the magical portal of life, possessed of the power of both physical regeneration and spiritual illumination and transformation.

Far from being seen as a "dirty cunt," woman's pubic triangle was the sacred manifestation of creative sexual power. And farfrom being of a lower, base, or carnal order, it was a primary symbol of the powerful figure known in later Western history as the Great Goddess: the divine source of life, pleasure, and love.

Ancient Sexual Symbols

In the south of France, where some of the earliest European art has been found, there are many images of the sacred vulva. Some of these, in cave sanctuaries near Les Eyzies in the Dordogne region, go back thirty thousand years. As archaeologists point out, the cave was symbolic of the Great Mother's womb. Its entrance was thus a symbol of the sacred portal or vaginal opening.

This association of the divine vulva and womb with birth, death, and regeneration is a major mythical theme in prehistoric art. It probably goes back all the way to the Paleolithic (or early Stone Age), is clearly present in the Neolithic (when agriculture began), and in various forms still survives in the Bronze Age and even later historic times.

Many sculptures of what archaeologists call Venus or Goddess figurines, as well as other ceremonial objects excavated from all over the ancient world, have highly emphasized vulvas. Since prehistoric art is primarily concerned with myths and rituals, there is little question that these vulvas are of religious significance. For example, in the Neolithic community of Lepenski Vir in the Iron Gate region of northern Yugoslavia, fifty-four red sandstone sculptures carved on oval boulders were found placed around vulva- and uterus-shaped altars in shrines that were themselves in the shape of the pubic triangle. Dating back more than eight thousand years, some of these sculptures have engravings of the face of the Goddess with V-shaped decorations pointing to the sacred vagina. Similarly, a group of Goddess figures from Moldavia in northeastern Romania dating to about seven thousand years ago have highly stylized pubic triangles decorated with V-shaped chevrons.

A six-thousand-year-old Goddess figure from Bulgaria, the throned "Lady of Pazardzik," has her arms folded over her prominently etched vulva. Her sacred triangle is ornamented by a double spiral, an ancient symbol of regeneration. Strikingly similar is a Japanese Jomon pottery Goddess from approximately the same time with double spirals on her torso and a highly stylized inverted pubic triangle.

In a Cycladic platter from about forty-five hundred years ago, a highly stylized vulva is flanked by branches under a large number of spirals in what looks like a spiral sea. In other places, the vulva is represented by symbols from nature, such as a flower bud or a cowrie shell. In fact, cowrie shells found among skeletons from more than twenty thousand years ago indicate that the practice of placing these shells in burials as symbols of the female power of regeneration goes back to remote antiquity. The ancient Egyptians often decorated their sarcophagi with cowries. And even as late as the Roman Empire, the cowrie shell was still seen as a powerful symbol of regeneration and illumination.

In ancient Indian religious tradition, the female pubic triangle was viewed as the focus of divine energy. It is to this day in Tantric yoga associated with what is called kundalini energy, which, when awakened through the pleasures of sex, rises through the body to bring about a state of ecstatic bliss. This Indian worship of the divine vulva, which in some places persists even now, is graphically illustrated by a relatively recent Indian sculpture: a twelfth-century relief carved on the walls of a Goddess temple in southern India of two holy men seated at the foot of a giant vulva, their hands raised in prayer.

There are also indications that the male phallus was in ancient times an object of veneration. Although the evidence for this is strongest from Bronze Age times, phalluses, and particularly depictions of the union of the phallus and vagina, are found as early as the Paleolithic, in imagery strongly reminiscent of the sacred lingam-yoni figures today still found in India. For example, at Le Placard in France, archaeologists found a carved object they at first called a baton de commandment (stick of command), which upon closer examination turned out to be a highly stylized elongated phallus above a vagina. One of the most interesting aspects of this ancient find is that like other Paleolithic artifacts, it has a series of notches that have now been identified as marking phases of the moon-leading Alexander Marshack to conjecture that this carving probably relates to a myth...

Sacred Pleasure. Copyright © by Riane Eisler. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Our Sexual and Social Choices: An Introduction 1
1 From Ritual to Romance: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Society 15
2 Animal Rites and Human Choices: The Roots of Dominator and Partnership Sex 34
3 Sex as Sacrament: The Divine Gifts of Life, Love, and Pleasure 53
4 Sex and Civilization: The Early Roots of Western Culture 72
5 From Eros to Chaos: Sex and Violence 84
6 The Reign of the Phallus: War, Economics, Morality, and Sex 103
7 The Sacred Marriage in a Dominator World: The Metamorphosis of Sex, Death, and Birth 126
8 The Last Traces of the Sacred Marriage: Mysticism, Masochism, and the Human Need for Love 143
9 From Ancient to Modern Times: Setting the Stage 161
10 Waking from the Dominator Trance: The Revolution in Consciousness and the Sexual Revolution 179
11 Bondage or Bonding: Sex, Spirituality, and Repression 201
12 Making Love or Making War: Eroticizing Violence 222
13 Sex, Gender, and Transformation: From Scoring to Caring 244
14 Getting Out of Prince Charming's Slipper: Sex, Femininity, and Power 265
15 Sex, Lies, and Stereotypes: Changing Views of Nature, the Body, and Truth 287
16 Morality, Ethics, and Pleasure: Sex and Love in the Age of AIDS 308
17 Sex, Power, and Choice: Redefining Politics and Economics 330
18 Toward a Politics of Partnership: Our Choices for the Future 347
19 The New Eves and the New Adams: The Courage to Question, the Will to Choose, and the Power to Love 372
The Dominator and Partnership Models 403
Use of Notes and Bibliography 407
Notes 409
Bibliography 464
Acknowledgments 484
Index 486
Permissions 495
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2001

    Sacred Knowledge

    Historical facts of World history provide the basis for this book. Sexuality is a part of life regardless of how we use, do not use, or abuse this gift. Knowledge helps us to make better choices. Forgotten knowledge and wisdom for both men and women are found within the pages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 30, 2012

    the best history of pleasure

    In this book Riane Eisler focuses on the issues surrounding joy. Why, she asks, are love and evil, cruelty and pleasure, so confounded in our private and public lives? Her answers involve a journey through the heart of civilization as we know it:

    " may well be that at least in some instances the Christian condemnation of sexual "licentiousness" was due to the ... all too common association of sex with violence and domination. ... But the Church did not then - any more than it does now - condemn the association of sex with violence... Instead, it condemned sexual pleasure."

    Eisler sets out to reconstruct the history of sex and love, starting with the bonobos chimpanzees. She traces the biological evolution of pleasure and the "chemistry of love". Endorphins become a powerful pleasure-reward for social bonding. Sex takes an importance far beyond reproduction. A different Darwinism emerges, stressing the survival of those with the greatest capacity for joy, love and mutual care. In Eisler's critical path, the future belongs not to those with the greatest means of coercion, or even with the best means of production, but to those able to inspire partnership between former competitors.

    It may seem odd, but the view that love and joy are central in human development is a dubious and unproven theory. Before it can be taken seriously, it must be backed with "hard" scientific and historical evidence. Eisler therefore supports her observations with a respectable 54 pages of reference notes.

    Most of the book comes under the heading, "Where Do We Go From Here?", in which Eisler spins her distinctive moral vision. To her mind, the modern media link of sex with violence:

    " not (as is often claimed) a product of modern sexual "laxness", but imbedded in ancient dominator traditions - this is not "the sexual revolution". It is the dominator sexual counter-revolution."

    She turns to praising real people who are building families of mutuality, politics of compassion, or to use Hazel Henderson's term, "the love economy". Through her Partnership Studies Center, Eisler works with like-minded people around the world. She introduces some of them: the Ecopolis Culture and Health Center in Moscow, a network called Women Living Under Muslim Laws, the Oakland Men's Project, the Mothers of El Salvador, Business for Social Responsibility, the Defense of Children International, the Prague-based East-West Gender Studies Center, or the Partnership Research Group at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing (which has produced a book called The Chalice and the Blade in Chinese Culture). As she writes, Eisler's sentences grow longer, with the cadence of someone excited. The sympathetic reader may feel walls crumbling. If the sentences are run on, who cares?

    In her last section, Eisler looks to myths and stories for a reconstruction of love. Among the stories she shares is a poem by her partner David Loye, transforming the tale of Adam and Eve into a tender touch after a bad dream.

    --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

    Sex slave

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012



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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2012

    Secret admirer


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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2008

    Sacred Pleasure, change your world view

    Some books change your outlook or inform your entire world view for the rest of your life. This is one of those books. Eisler's passion shines through in the detailed and complete reasearch conducted and linked together to form an understandable narative of a vast subject matter. The book is long and intellectual but well worth the effort. I strongly recommend reading Chalice and the Blade first. I read it for a class in college and have since read all of her books. I give Sacred Pleasure and it's companion the Chalice and the Blade as gifts.

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