Social Hierarchies: Human nature, outmoded relic, or complete aberration?
by Daniel Giamario, founder of the Shamanic Astrology Paradigm
“In sum, the struggle for our future is…the struggle between those who cling to patterns of domination and those working for a more equitable partnership world.” ~Riane Eisler
The ceremonial passage into full status as a certified Shamanic Astrologer includes the utterance and embodiment of a very potent intention: “I believe that this experience and commitment eliminates fear, separation, power over others, false classes and hierarchies, and other relationships not in accordance with Spirit.”
What could this mean, to eliminate power over others and ‘false’ classes and hierarchies? Societies around the world show evidence of various systems of ranking individuals. Some of these systems are open – where status is achieved through merit or action – and some are closed, meaning they are determined by birth with no hope of social mobility. This seems commonplace to us today and possibly even inevitable.
At some point in human history we began separating into classes or castes, ruled by hierarchies. Is this type of social construct intrinsic in our nature? Or are we living in an archaic, constricting system that no longer serves humanity, especially at the Turning of the Ages?
In this article I am proposing that caste, class, and hierarchy are either outdated ways of being that may have had value and function at one point (doubtful), OR are truly an aberration that has propelled global humanity down very dark and dangerous pathways that are NOT natural or intrinsic to our true nature.
To examine this terrain in more depth, let’s begin by defining a few terms:
Class – From the Latin “classis”, which began as a division of the people in Rome into six classes for taxation purposes. Class has always had the connotation of financial and economic status.
Caste – From the Spanish and Portugese “casta”, meaning race or breed. Also from the Latin “castus”, meaning chaste, pure, or unmixed. Caste is about racial purity or bloodlines and is almost always hereditary. More often than not you are locked into a particular caste and cannot change to another.
Hierarchy – From the Greek, meaning “sacred ruler” and originally related to the ranking of angels and heavenly beings. Only from the 17th century onwards did it come to mean status, authority, a pecking order, or a chain of command.
Let’s now contrast these three concepts with two very different ideas:
Egalitarian – First from the Latin, and then to the French language, meaning equal. This gave rise to the belief in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.
Gylany – Coined in 1978 by Riane Eisler in her book The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, our Future, the word is derived from the [The Chalice and the Blade] ancient Greek. It joins together the word for woman; the word meaning to solve, resolve and set free; and the word for man. Gylany is a social system based on equality of men and women. Gylany is balanced and equalitarian and is not to be confused with matriarchy or gynocracy, which are systems wherein women impose hierarchical power over men. Gylany contrasts starkly with androcracy, or patriarchy, a form of government where the rulers are men.
Themes of Hierarchy
As stated earlier, class systems show up all over the globe. The medieval system of lords, knights, merchants, and serfs is one of countless examples. The caste system, which carries with it an ancient and diverse pedigree, is still adhered to by millions today in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China, Mongolia, Iran, Yemen, and elsewhere. Money – those who have it and those who don’t – creates another set of clear, dividing lines that are easily witnessed and painfully experienced around the globe. We are all too familiar with the current ‘one percent’ debate.
I plan to cover more in an upcoming article on the origins of these hierarchical social constructs, but here is an interesting insight into a source of significant influence on Western civilization as we know it. Plato, in The Republic (380 BC), proposed dividing society into a class and caste system mirroring his view of the levels of the soul. He used metals to illustrate this:
Gold – Guardians, philosopher-kings
Silver – Auxiliaries, the warriors and defenders
Bronze-Brass – The artisans
Iron – The manual laborers
Sound familiar? Aristocrats and elites, of course, love this! (They believe that they are the gold!) It’s worthy to note here that Plato’s system has been criticized for being racial with sexist overtones and inclusive of slavery.
Themes of Domination
Another issue that must be addressed is the dominator approach of human beings. The term dominator culture, also coined by Riane Eisler and expanded on by Terrence McKenna, refers to a culture that lacks social conscience and concern for the environment and is based upon an alienation from nature, self, and the other. It’s easy to see that attaching hierarchy to patriarchy is a dominator paradigm. It’s even possible that the dominator attitude could have existed in matriarchal cultures. As those who have followed some of these threads in the past will know, Shamanic Astrology, even in its celebration and advocacy for the renaissance of the sacred feminine, does not desire to recreate the matriarchy. Rather, we are looking even further back and diving more deeply into the realm of what is possible.
A Time of Renaissance
Standing in stark contrast to caste, class, and hierarchy are gylany and egalitarianism. Gylany was coined in 1978, while egalitarianism originates from the time of the American and French Revolutions. Does the more recent appearance of these terms and concepts make them an evolutionary development, something that wasn’t previously available or possible? Or, are these themes the resurfacing of a far richer and even older human social reality that stretches back hundreds of thousands of years? If the latter, then the combination of monotheistic religions, patriarchal family structure, and hierarchical patriarchy, overlaid with the dominator imperative, is truly an aberration that has only occupied a small fraction of our actual history.
A growing body of research in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, genetics/DNA, and linguistics has led to discoveries that push our known human history further and further back in time.
For example, as one looks back into Neolithic times when there was a balance of agriculture and hunter-gatherer lifestyles, there is very little evidence of organized warfare. In fact, a lot of evidence has been found for a collaborative and, in fact, gylanic society. We now know that global Neolithic culture honored a Mother Goddess and organized their culture in harmony with the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth and sky. This “As Above, So Below” spiritual tradition was shared throughout the world.
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