Friday 26 April 2013

Amazonia: Archeoideology

Heading back to the Lustrian jungle, for another look at the Amazons, who are of course the all-female warrior tribe, loosely based on Greek myth intermixed with a heap of contemporary 1980s influences.

C30 Citadel Amazons | 2nd Citadel Compendium

"Second wave" feminism in the 1970s created an entirely new mythology founded on completely dodgy archaeological grounds. The central story goes something like this: once upon a time in Neolithic Europe women were dominant and as women are all naturally "peaceful, nurturing and in tune with nature" they worshiped the Great Mother Goddess and humanity all lived together in universal peace and harmony. And then, boo-hiss evil patriarchal male dominated society invaded and destroyed them all, with their evil man-idea of The Wheel and enslaving horses and being male-chauvinist pigs and stuff.

Amazon Branchwalker | David Sims / Daria Werbowy | Vogue US 2010
Of course, such scenarios can only be constructed by cherry picking archeological evidence, generally making stuff up, falsifying dates, projecting folklore onto a much earlier time period than that which produced it and overly free interpretation of evidence etc. This kind of nonsense was spouted by crackpot hippy archeologist Maria Gimbutas, and is no doubt still in vogue in some happy-clappy alternative history quarters.

Fortunately someone has put an amateur documentary up on Youtube about Gimbutas so you can watch it rather than wade through her texts, it is a relentlessly pro-feminist prehistory, and provides less critical substance as the average History Channel piece (i.e. not much). Like Erich von Danikens Chariots of the Gods before it, the rhetoric is rather barefaced - notice how the the connective tissue of argument is dsicarded in favor of parading images of artifacts in front of the viewer with assertion after assertion, with no explanation of how the objects are actually related across great oceans of time. Best example putting Willendorf Venus (24,000BC) in a sequence with a piece of Greek sculpture (3,500BC) with no mention of how these artifacts could be related, they just are :

This central myth of "matriachal prehistory" as it is known, requires women to be seen as 'peaceful and nurturing' and men as 'violent and dominating' which, rather than being based on actual historical evidence, is just projecting the negative stereotyped gender-roles of contemporary society onto prehistory. As this actually does nothing to improve the social standing of women (or men for that matter), it's no wonder contemporary feminists reject it wholeheartedly as a useful mythology, but in the late 1970s, early 1980s, much of this discource' was actively taking place within archaeology - and unlike Von Dankiens  "the aliens did it" which is alternately scoffed at and ignored by academia, Gimbutas curried some favour with proper historians and archeologists of the time (typically ones promoting a feminist agenda, and those wanting to just point out how ideologically constucted our notions of pre-history are).

The slightly less imaginative bits of Gimbutas writings (largely about migrations of people in the neolithic period) do still have some currency, although in the decidedly dodgy area of Aryan racial origins, the beloved field of many a right-wing extremist. Amusingly it's centered around invasion of eastern europe by the Kurgans. Which is totally hilarious, as any fule kno the Kurgan look exactly like some 1980s Chaos Warriors sculpted by by Aly Morrisson:

Prehistoric Male Chauvanist Kurgan of Khaos
Highlander (1986)
In her later book "The Language of the Goddess" Gimbutas does some quite frankly maddeningly bad semiolgical analysis of symbols created by stone-age people, such as claiming Ox heads represents the female uterus, (the very identification of which would require medical knowledge and surgical skill not otherwise in evidence with the neolithic people she's dicussing)  and that images of double-headed axes are not axes at all but actually butterflys and therefore symbols of regeneration (rather than obvious instruments of war), and well, that any triangle represents the female generative anatomy. One is reminded of Sigmund Freud's, "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar". Obviously I disagree with Gimbutas  interpretations as being anything other than a personal delusion and their applicability to actual history to be nonsensical, but such notions are potentially interesting fodder for fantasy gaming and world creation.

WH40k: Waaaargh the Orks Goff Banner
according to Gimbutas, this is a uterus and a butterfly

Riggs shrine

But returning to our Lustrians and  the Second Citadel Journal. If we skim over the Shrine of Rigg,  we see that the scenario centers on the conflict between greedy violent male Norse raiders seeking treasure, and primitivist eco-feminist Amazons, who are scientifically (they have high technology), spiritually (they can physically manifest their Goddess) and morally superior, defending their home and prehistoric cultural heritage.

The scenario essentially reproduces the core discources of feminist archeology: On the one hand we can read the Norse as a portrayal of the male archeologist as  looter and defiler of ancient acred space (the Shrine), and the female as a  preserver of history and culture (ancient technology and its manuals), and on the other hand this is also a reproduction of the central Gimbutasian myth of invading male aggressors (Kurgans) on an otherwise peaceful and indigenous matriarchal society ( indigenous Proto-Indo-Europeans).

Men are from Norsca, Wymmin are from Amazonia | John Blanche | 1984
Punks, Old Market Square, Nottingham, 1983.| via Nottingham in the 80s

Whether engaging with these academic, archeological dialogues was part of Richard Halliwells intention, I do not know. I know Rick Priestly studied archeology. The chances are it is nothing so deliberate, but rather a just a melange of cultural influences of the time. And that's one of the advantages of approaching these texts in 2013, rather than 1984, having enough distance to look at the patterns and see it as part of a wider cultural dialogue.

Putting matters of intentionality to one side, I would argue  the myth of matriachal prehistory is exactly the kind of ideologically constructed pseudohistory that is ripe for developing fantasy (Tolkiens conceptual and discarded Mythology for England project by way of example, or Nazi UFOs for another). So rather than playing out the Napoleonic Wars on Mars or Space:1945 Warhammers Lustria could be seen to be gaming with the text of 1980s Gender Wars and the myth of matriarchal prehistory.

Amazon Tracker | Daria Werbowy | Vogue US 2010

Gimbutas bronze-age feminists were completely peaceful with no weapons - while the same cannot be said of Halliwells Amazons, who are most certainly armed. However, they do not seem to have a formal, standing army. The "warriors" are either priestesses, with ceremonial weapons, tribal hunters -with bows and arrows and hunting knives or bodyguards with spears. We are informed that the Amazons lived peacefully alongside the Old Slann (the only other faction existing in Warhammer prehistory), although that peace has now ended since the collapse of the Old Slann empire. Also, like Gimbuas' imaginary prehistoric Goddess, the Amazons are mysteriously self-generating, having no males to produce their offspring.  If we are to take our radical-feminist reading of the Amazons back in time from the fantasies of the "second wave" we can see in the Suffragette movement a potential parallel of the Amazons access to advanced technological weapons as the militant members of the Women's Social and Political Union being known for arming themeselves with hand guns... but I'll save that for another post

OK, so that;s the narrative, but what does that mean in gamist terms? I hear you ask. Well, I've updated the Tribeswomens stats from 1E to be compatible with 2nd/3rd edition (that's the 2E S+T kicker and numerical T), and points value calculated as per the Oldhammer Points Value calculator so we can make some numerical comparisons.
4 3 3 3 3 1 3 1 7 7 7 7 5
5 3 3 3 3 1 5 1 7 7 7 7 6

So the 1E Amazons are faster than men, both in that they can move further and will attack first. So while not exactly representing gender equality, nor going over the top to make them overcompensated fetishised super heroines as in the dominatrix mould that plagues current representations of the female in current Warhammer imagery either. although the bonuses to speed and agility are within the gender-role norms (i.e. why not excessive Strength or Toughness?). Again a useful comparison to  Dungeons & Dragons may be made, where feminine characters Strength is capped at a lower than the masculine, wheras in Warhammer these are equal.

| John Paul Gautier 2010
It should also be pointed out that while Amazons are female, they are not strictly human. Whether this itself is a distancing of the feminine from the center of the Warhammer mythology, or even a product of the literal dehumanising of the feminine can only be seen in how the individual relates to the 'otherness' of the faction. In Riggs Shrine, for example the Norse are largely unsympathetic gold-hungry raiders, albeit cast very much in the murderer-hobo vein of the D&D adventurer which gamers of the time were reasonably familiar and comfortable with. In this context, the usurping of the milieu from the expected Orc / Bugbear / Evil Cultist infested dungeon  (c.f. the Caves of Chaos in Keep on the Borderland) to a holy place run by tribal women goes some way to show how radical a departure from traditional fantasy adventure gaming Rigg is.*

In this kind of reading, fantasy gaming becomes more of a socially aware text than pure escapism and can even be seen to have a socio-political dimension. And of course, the idea of radicalised female tribal warrior still has currency today, as I hope the photos of Daria Werbowy and the 80s Nottingham punk scene illustrate...

*unless of course, the Orks are Goddess worshipping Orks with diagrams of a uterus on their banners, and the cave itself a symbol of deep feninine reproductive ability, into which the adventurers must delve... anyone done a freudian analysis of Gygaxan gaming? 

Again, let's finish this trip to Lustria with  a look at every ones favourite 1980s Franco-Japanese Greek-myth in space cartoon series, Ulysees 31. In this episode (#23: Calypso) Ulysees lands on a planet entirely inhabited by a race of alien women. There has been some discussion about the emotional weight of this series in the comments, and I feel it only justified to warn you that not only do we see clearly adulterous intent on the part of Ulysses,  several people die - on camera, and we also see our hero cry.

"Melancholia Factor 10, Captain".


  1. If there ever is a real 'Oldhammer' or 'Brit Old School' fan/magazine, it would be all the better for some articles such as this.

  2. A very interesting peice. One thing I like about those '80's Amazon miniatures is that that are very much not of the current trend towards scantily clad amazon warriors. i would quite happily buy those figs and give them to my daughters to paint and play with. I would be (and am) hard pressed to do that with many of the current range of Amazonian figures, who are more of the Red Sonja 'cheesecake' mould.

    1. The Mordheim Amazon warband figures aren't too bad - though not particularly punky. Certainly better than some gaming figures/art - I should know, my Reaper Bones kickstarter arrived and while there are some good female miniatures, some are quite embarrassing.

    2. Hey Derek. The forthcoming adventuresses from Otherworld Miniatures are - they don't have any punk-aztec attributes, but they are properly dressed. There are some shots here.

      Red Box Games female characters in the Alfar / Aenglish and Njorn ranges. Likewise very good representations of female warriors - but again, northern rather than southern in flavor.

      If are for more 'exotic' female figures, but still troops I would recommend The Aridáni Legion of Lady Mríssa, 19th Imperial Medium Infantry - which I will be writing about with regards Lustria /Amazons at some point.

  3. Great read, Zhu, and very well/fairly argued. Social issues in gaming material are fascinating, but can become rather fraught (especially issues of race/sex) but you've really laid it all out in your reading of rigg.

    1. Thank you. I'm not sure I meant to be fair in my treatment of Gimbutas theories, because as history I regard them in total contempt, but that's perhaps a different point.

      Representation issues in contemporary gaming on both the race and sex are very interesting, but the discourses around them generally seem to be reactionary and non-progressive, there may be political reasons for that.

  4. Nice work, Zhu.
    Just one question:
    Tha Amazons get 3 points stat bonus while only paying 1 point for it? Sounds rather cheap, especially with the quite high I.

    1. Yes, I think the maths is correct. The stats are weighted and balanced. In my opinion the idea of 'cheap' or 'expensive' doesn't really come into it, points go in, stats come out. have a look here. Amazons cost a little more than men, and are a little better.

  5. The Warhammer World has always been a house of mirrors, reflecting and distorting our own world back at us. The 80's were a time when morality was under scrutiny and creativity was heightened by adversity, so the 'art' of the period has a flavour richer and more varied than that of today. Even our 2008 'financial collapse' which has been likened to past events was a bit bland, with the lethargic Occupy movement stealing inspiration from creatives like Alan Moore instead of the other way around.

    Great article, I devoured every word.

    Can't wait to read what you make of Pygmies and Coatl!

    1. Cheers Paul. We can of course see Warhammer as a product of its times, but I'm not convinced that the writers seek to engage in a wider discource, or take much influence from the political and theoretical climate of the day. The Dark Mechanicum hacking the astropathic signals a la Anonymous (the V for Vendetta mask wearing Hacktervist contigent of Occupy) might be an interesting satire, but I'm not seeing this coming out of GW central.

      Pygmies are cool, but it might well be 2014 by the time I get around to them, lots more Amazon bits and pieces to come.

  6. Thanks for another insightful and amusing post, Zhu! I do enjoy your excursions into cultural matters!

  7. Hello,

    Your blog is really very interesting. I am an enthusiast of old CITADEL miniatures and old GAMES WORKSHOP products.


    Sir Roland

  8. Excellent piece Zhu - finally got around to reading it and giving it some thought. Gimbutas rings a faint bell somewhere - not sure if she's discussed in Toynbee's Study of History or whether I came across her elsewhere?

    I think Rigg's Shrine was quite different from a lot of what had gone before, for the reasons you give. But for me I see the Amazon Sisterhood as a slightly less innocent bunch - using their inherited scientific and technological power to sustain their power base through mysticism and religion. They are certainly more sympathetic than the Norse which you are invited to play as in the scenario, but they're no angels in espousing the holy trinity of Murder, Warfare and Narcotics! While there isn't much evidence in the background of any despotic tendencies, the Sisterhood have a firm grip on Amazon society with their Koka-addicted Koka Kalim army behind them.

    However, there are dissidents - don't forget Kara Lakota, the renegade Amazonian who joins the Magnificent Sven's crew - she rebels against the Sisterhood's harsh regime and is contacted by a subversive Kalimist organisation and recruited to join a plot to blow up the Amazon Queen as she visited the shrine.

    Whether all this makes it more acceptable to don the mantle of male chauvinist Norse raider I'm not sure!

    Anyway, thanks for a great and thought provoking read - and the updated stats, not to mention more inspiration for colour schemes. I'm currently painting up the Sisterhood minis along with Rigg and some devouts a la Diana Rigg. I'll be sure to include some butterfly and uterus wall decorations to my ongoing model of Rigg's shrine!

    The soundtrack (not theme tune!) of Ulyses has definitely worked its way into my psyche - can't get enough of that melancholia factor 10! Adulterous intentions - what a chauvinist ;)

    1. Well thanks for taking the time for a long reply! As you know I have a few draft posts that I'll get around to finishing some day.

      Kara Lakota does provide an interesting view on Amazonian society. My reading of her is as an intransient rebel, finding the Sisterhood oppressive, and the Norse chauvinist, the archetypal anti-authoritarian figure (chaotic-neutral in d&d terms). But indeed she does belie the utopian gloss. Perhaps even utopias with junkie punx with gunz as the establishment may still produce rabid anti-authoritarian junkie punx with gunz.

      Lakota embodies another aspect of radical feminism - the Suffragette Movement, whose more militant supporters indeed plotted to blow-up members of the Establishment (parliament/queen) and carried guns. Again, I use that to try and paint an image of Haliwell constructing Fantasy out of the historical narratives of Feminism. There's pictures too, but that's the gist of it anyway.

      One aspect from Sven that not all that oppressive, is that Riotta Snow, the sea elf goes on holiday to Lustria, and as a sea-elf (and more importantly a woman), is free to roam the territory.

      Gimbutas should appear, at least in passing, in pretty much any serious text that covers the proto/indo-europeans, as she did some reasonably good work in that area before going loopy.

      Ulysse soundtrack you say? apperently sending some french people 20 Euros will get a CD of it Vinyl would have been more old-school!

    2. Comment-omancy!

      Thanks for your equally detailed response - and the link for the Ulyses CD!

      I wonder if having Karra as a dissenting voice against the Sisterhood was a bit of a reference to the many divisions feminism experienced. Is she an anarcha-feminist (or just an anarchist?) as opposed to the separatist feminism of the Amazonian culture. She's certainly no fan of the Norsemen's chauvinism despite seeking sanctuary there.

      Riolta is interesting as a liberated female character. As a woman, she's been allowed to visit Amazonia and has in fact been to Rigg's Shrine and other must see tourist attractions. Obviously Sea elf society must have a higher degree of gender equality than that of the Humans and Amazons, however, is it her high social standing or economic mobility, as well as being female that give her freedom to become a tourist in Amazonia? Does she represent a more Thatcherite example of liberated womanhood - competing directly with the men in their own sphere of influence (hunting/archery/war)and enjoying the trappings of wealth?

  9. You're right about Ms. Snows socio-economic status - after all the Sea Elves literally worship Amex.. Not sure about Thatcherism-Reganomics, as she lacks entrepreneurial verve. As a superstar sportswoman tourist and a typical Übermench elf - beautiful, talented, rich and annoying - she is certainly liberated.

    It is interesting that the spheres Rigg represents are what would typically be considered 'masculine' areas, war, politics, science, and it is in a Kalimist uprising that Lakota joins against the Monarchy.

    1. Ms. Snow also appears in "Terror of the Lichemaster", again as a tourist-sportswoman, now subject of the romantic intentions of some human "adventurer" iirc.
      She really does get around the Warhammer world. I'd be delighted if there were any novels or short stories about her adventures, but a quick google search sadly brought up nothing but the two scenario's.

  10. I'm a bit late for the show (about three years) but I'm really enjoying these cultural tours through the steamy jungles of 1980s Lustria.

    I have one criticism though...

    "It should also be pointed out that while Amazons are female, they are not strictly human."

    In 2nd Edition Battle Bestiary it is explicitly stated in two places, and strongly suggested in several more, that Amazons are 100% human.

    1. Ah it's never too late!

      Well, the 2nd edition Timeline that the Amazons are the results of genetic manipulation by the Slann.

      Although I do conceed that the rulebooks do call them human by their own defintion. Whether genetically modified beings that procreate through super-science-engineering count as human is the kind of thing that kept the board of the Tyrell Corporation awake at night - but from my POV the Amazons just aren't the simple humans as the Old Worlders or Nipponese are.