Seasonal Salon

Worthy of Shelf Space

Fall, 2017

 

In the lore of the wheel, the autumn is the season of power.  We remember the Amazon, the Matriarch, and the Priestess.  Sometimes these roles intertwine in mysterious and potent ways.  Return to an old favorite and re-explore the legends of Camelot with its famous women.  Imagine what it might be like to be a part of a hive mind.  Catch up on the recent history of Iran.  Learn about the warrior women never covered in your history books.  

This issue I found myself caught up by the sadder aspects of power, painfully aware of the actualities that not everything will work out as we hope.  So don’t expect these books to be light reading.  You can, however, expect them to be meaningful and thought-provoking.

 

Something Old:

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Alfred A. Knopf, 1983

I expect every RCGI woman has read this book.  It was one of the first blockbusters to detail the idea that priestesses existed and the worship of the Goddess played a part in ancient Britain.  For many women, it provided a path to the discovery of a spirituality they could call their own.

Since Malory wrote Le’Morte d’Arthur in 1485, the tales of Camelot captivate the imagination.  In every previous telling, Lancelot, Arthur, Merlin, and Mordred are the main characters in the sweeping saga with Guinevere as the foil among them.  What a triumph it was when Marion Zimmer Bradley published this 876 page story which brought the women to life.  We learn of Igraine, mother of Arthur and wife of Uther Pendragon, priestess born and powerful in her own right.  We see a different picture entirely of Gwenhwfar, as the wife torn between her desire and her duty.  We come to know Morgause, the overlooked sister who has more ambition than knowledge. 

The stars of the book are the Priestesses of Avalon:  Viviane, the Lady of the Lake; Niniane, who tries to carry on the work; Nimue, the maiden who weaves the ultimate spell; Raven, the seer; and of course, Morgaine; in whom lie the hopes of the Goddess people.  I loved these priestesses.  I felt as though I had found myself at last.

Thirty-four years have passed since this book was written.  Re-reading it made me fall in love with the Goddess all over again.

 

Something New:

The Bees: A Novel, Laline Paull, Harper Collins Publishers, 2014

Reviewers have compared this book to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Hunger Games, and Animal Farm.  Add a little of Star Trek’s Borg too.

Flora 717 is born as a sanitation worker bee.  This class is the lowest of the low in a caste conscious hive. Flora is different, however, as she is big and she can speak unlike others of her type.  Usually any non-conforming bees are killed.  Through the intervention of Sister Sage, a highly-ranked priestess, Flora’s life is spared.  Flora’s talents allow her to move beyond the usual work of her kin, and she learns the inner workings of the entire hive.  This is essential for the group is in grave danger.

Flora becomes a forager.  Her size and strength are assets in collecting nectar and pollen.  The bees transmit information by dancing, and Flora’s dancing ability transmits the location of superior plants.  This assists other bees to bring back precious food for the winter months.  In the midst of the daily struggles for survival, Flora maintains her secret.  She can produce eggs which is blasphemy.  Only the Holy Mother Queen may produce offspring.

In a society in which the mantra is “Accept, Obey, and Serve,” Ms. Paull creates a tribute to the power and necessity of the unconventional.  I found the world of the hive compelling as well as dangerous.  It’s a fine story about the risks associated with surrendering individual decision making to the needs of group society.  And yet, a society of females living in proximity and devotion to a Holy Mother touches a responsive chord.

Read this book.  It will make you both a better priestess and citizen. 

 

Something Non-US:

Until We Are Free, My Fight for Human Rights in Iran, Shirin Ebadi, Random House, 2016

This is a book which forces us to face the realities of the world in which women live.  One of those frustrating facts is that progress ebbs and flows in unpredictable ways.  Another is that patriarchy is not easily defeated.

Dr. Shirin Ebadi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her work with Iran’s women’s movement.  Prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, she was the first female chief justice of an Iranian high court.  Like all other women after the revolution, she was removed from any position of authority over men.  She did not leave Iran, but continued to work as a lawyer for women’s and children’s rights as well as for political prisoners.  This autobiography details what happened after she won the Nobel.   This is not a cheerful story, but it is an important one.

When Ahmadinejad became President of Iran in 2005, many of the liberties which had slowly begun returning to Iranian society were repressed.  Religious militias became more powerful.  Among those attacked by the militia were the Sufis, a mystical practice of Islam.  Hundreds of Sufis were arrested across the country.  Women who demonstrated for changes to laws were arrested.  Seven leaders of the Baha’is faith were arrested, considered heretics by the Islamic Republic.  Dr. Ebadi represented them all.  During this time, “Mr. Mahdavi” the state intelligence agent interviewed her monthly.

Dr. Ebadi left Iran in 2009 intending to make a short trip to Spain to deliver a speech on freedom of expression.  Due to the surprising result of the elections in which Ahmadinejad remained in power, she has been unable to return to Iran in safety.  Today she lives in exile in Great Britain.  Her two daughters reside outside of Iran as well.  Her husband chose to divorce her and remains in Iran.

Here are a couple of quotes from this very brave woman:  “It is hard to imagine an Islamic Republic that is at peace with the United States, for a revolution not perpetually at war with its enemies becomes duty bound to be accountable to its citizens.  This is something to which Iran’s rulers have shown themselves to be adverse” and “The field of human rights is not about pretty words; it involves the abuse of the vulnerable by those who wield power.  That was the fine line that connected massacres in Sarajevo to atrocities in Sierra Leone to the systematic persecution of dissidents in places like Iran and Russia”.

Throughout the world, people must remain aware of the fates of those who stand for the rights of women.  Do not let them become the forgotten ones.

 

Something True:

Warrior Women, 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism, Robin Cross & Rosalind Miles, Metro Books, 2011

Amazons.  Valiant women.  Throughout the centuries, they have been good and bad.  They have been on both the right and the wrong sides of conflicts.  One shared trait is that they are never wimps.

Many of the names you will know:  Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, Boudicca of the Iceni, Joan of Arc, and Catherine the Great.  But have you encountered Sammu-Ramat of Assyria, who many believe was responsible for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?  How about the Tru’ung sisters of Vietnam who fought the Chinese in the first century CE?  From the pages of ignored history, we uncover Anne-Josephe Theroigne de Mericourt, an inspiration in the early days in the French Revolution whose life ended in a mental institution and Constance Markiewicz, a key figure in the Irish Easter Uprising of 1916 and defender of a united Ireland.  Fittingly, the final entry in the book is the story of one of our greatest living heroines, Senator Tammy Duckworth.

Cross and Miles discuss groups of women fighters as well.  Some, like the Russian Night Witches of WWII who flew silent bombing runs, have been rediscovered via the internet.  Equally fascinating are the Soldaderas of the Mexican Revolution, the warrior women of Dahomey in West Africa, the women of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and the US WASPs. 

While soldiers, leaders and revolutionaries make up a large percentage of the book, the authors do not overlook the courage of the rescuers and the truth-tellers throughout time.  The daring stories of Harriet Tubman, Irene Sendlerowa, and the Mothers of the Disappeared of Argentina share the space, reminding us that warriors come in all varieties.

In these troubled times, we do well to honor the brave.

 

Renee Rabb is an ordained RCGI priestess who now lives with her wife, Barbara, on the Big Island of Hawaii in a place called Paradise Park.  She still reads a lot and is learning the meaning of aloha.
Category: Fall Equinox 2017