Monthly Archives: September 2012

Book Review: Trinity by Clare Davidson

Clare Davidson’s Trinity could have been about half again as long as it is.

In reading this story, which held my interest well, I felt there was a lot of potential that didn’t quite manage to be developed. The framework of the world and its difficulties caused by the death (more or less) of two-thirds of its pantheon is clever and original. I felt that a lot more could have been done in terms of covering the way in which the society was impacted by the theological disaster. We learn the gist of it, but the way in which the effective absence of the two goddesses has sent the land and people into a kind of simmering madness, that periodically becomes complete madness, could have been dealt with better, especially in some of the later scenes which presented a perfect opportunity.

The characters, I feel, are another area that deserved and should have had more development. In concept, and in what development occurred, these are great, complex, strong characters. Each of the five main characters has complicated layers of motivation that are the stuff of great immersion in a story, and much more could have been added that would have shown their personalities in all their depths. Instead, I felt the story was rushed and that the author was in too great a hurry to get to the conclusion of the tale.

This is especially true of Kiana, the incarnation of the goddess Miale. Kiana is actually a very strong woman, but one has to stop oneself, look back on her actions, and figure this out. The impression one gains while reading the story is of a weak, ignorant, cowardly, rather pathetic little bimbo, because those are the emotions she is always expressing. Since that isn’t really what she’s like — I could present actions on her part aplenty to prove this, but they would be spoilers — I don’t feel it worked to present her as if she were. I found that this evidence of strength and stubbornness had to power a rational understanding that she really is a stronger character than the impression I was getting. On a visceral level, she comes across as weak, whining, and somewhat empty-headed. A little of that, especially in the beginning, might have been very good, but she should have hardened in her behavior over time as the group faced their difficulties and she developed a determination to save the world.

The other characters — the Guardian with healing powers, the renegade Wolf who was enemy-turned-ally, the Wolf battle leader pursuing the renegade with motives of personal vengeance as well as justice, and the far-sighted magician who accompanies the battle leader — don’t display the same sort of disconnect between visceral impressions and their actions, but each of them could have been better developed. There was so much in concept to each of them that I felt they deserved more of their own stories told.

The writing style of Trinity is solid. I felt it could have benefited from another round of editing but on the whole, it’s well written, with few wasted words and a nice, crisp style. The concept is good and original, the characters are interesting and complex, and the conclusion handled reasonably well. If it were half again as long to develop both plot and characters in more depth, it would be great.

It’s still worth reading even so.

Trinity at Amazon

Trinity at Smashwords

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Humility

Humility is a virtue asserted by every religion and every spiritual tradition and understood by very few. It’s something that was brought home to me recently by an exploration of the phenomenon of leadership.

A leader, particularly one in a spiritual position, must live a paradox. He is “above” the rest in certain ways: taking greater responsibility, providing guidance and help to others that they cannot as easily do for themselves, upholding the highest standards of thought and behavior. If he starts to think of himself as above the rest, though, he hampers his ability to fulfill his function as a leader. There’s a natural and lamentable temptation to see leadership status as a privilege, and to take from it affirmation of one’s own superiority. It’s very difficult to avoid doing this, but the very best of leaders do.

As Lao Tzu put it:

To lead people, walk beside them …
As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.
The next best, the people honor and praise.
The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate …
When the best leader’s work is done the people say,
We did it ourselves!

Humility is the name for this virtue, but it’s often misunderstood. A person who puts herself down is not being humble. In fact, you cannot be humble while thinking about yourself, unless there is a real need to do that, and then only temporarily. Focus on self, whether in praise or in criticism, is not humility.

Humility is self-forgetfulness. It’s doing what is needed, mind full of the doing rather than the doer.

I deal with this a bit in my work in progress, Goddess-Born, the second in the Tale of Two Worlds series and the sequel to The Green Stone Tower. In this passage, the goddess Lasatha is speaking on the qualities of a great ruler.

Above all else, the leader of a people must forget himself.

There is no room for selfishness – there is no room for self – in the heart that knows wisdom.

A leader is the expression of his people’s will, the caretaker of their well-being, the voice of their desires, the governor of their passions, their eyes on the path of destiny, and their hands raised in defense and in common works. All of this he must do for them, forgetting himself and his own desires.

A leader who remembers himself forgets wisdom. A leader who forgets himself is wise. A nation governed by such a man or woman is blessed.

The leader must be a clear channel for the people’s will and for wisdom, and in that channel there can be no room for his own desires, his own aggrandizement, his own ego.

Beware the rich man bearing gifts.

A rich man gives no gifts to the leader in truth. All that he gives is a price paid for some service, and he intends to get his money’s worth.

A leader who has forgotten himself will not be tempted. When the rich man comes to see the leader, gold raining from his hands and a smile on his face, the wise leader drives him and his gold away with a whip, for he knows that in offering gold to the leader, the rich man seeks to remind him of himself and so cause him to forget wisdom.

In America particularly we have become painfully aware of the corrupting effect of wealth on our democracy, but we don’t tend to look at it from the leader’s own perspective. If we selected leaders who were humble, who were self-forgetful, and whose concern was to serve the people’s collective will rather than to enhance their own status and maintain and augment their political positions, no amount of campaign contributions or even outright bribery would suffice as a corrupting influence.

A leader is chosen by the people who follow him, whether they know it or not. The leader must meet the approval of those who follow, or they will follow another instead.

For the leader to be among the wise, therefore, it is first necessary that a measure of wisdom be found in the people. The leader is elevated by the people’s choice, or upon elevation by another factor at least is maintained in power by the people’s tolerance. The people’s tolerance varies according to their wisdom, and their wisdom varies with the times.

At their most foolish, which is to say at their most frightened, the people follow a tyrant. In this, they surrender the power that should be theirs into the hands of another. If they are lucky, he proves to be a visionary who does great good. If they are unlucky (and this is much more common and likely), their lives become a nightmare for a time.

In their normal state, neither very foolish nor very wise, the people follow a venal leader, but keep him tightly bound with the restraints of law and of their own suspicion. Such a leader can do little good, but dares do little harm, and if he should dare, the law and the people restrain him.

If the people should become wise, they would follow a wise leader. But no generation has ever been wise. Yet I tell you that one day it will be so, and as it is I who say it you can be certain that it is true.

We may at any rate hope. I have some difficulty seeing either President Barack Obama or Governor Mitt Romney as a humble man who forgets himself. Perhaps this can be achieved part of the time, and perhaps that’s all we can expect given the state of our own minds.

Meanwhile, for those of us who are leaders in a smaller capacity, as well as for each of us engaged in spiritual questing and filled with a desire for understanding, humility is a cardinal virtue. For in the end, the self is an illusion, a standing wave created from the activity of the brain, useful for some purposes but distinctly problematic if we wish to transcend the deception in which we are bound and achieve enlightenment.

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Goblins, Ogres, and Other Sub-Human Beasties

Let’s consider another staple of fantasy fiction: brutish goons.

These are creatures that present an ugly caricature of ourselves: goblins, ogres, trolls, giants, and similar creatures. Their depiction involves a certain stretching and distortion of human capability both physical and mental along with a sharp downgrade of human behavior in its moral dimension. Either intelligence or physique is downgraded; if intelligence is low then physical capacity may be superhuman, but certainly not both. Sometimes a sub-human beastie may be as intelligent as a human being or even a little more so in terms of tool-use capacity and low cunning, but shrunken physically. At other times it’s the opposite: the creature is as dumb as a stump, but big and very, very strong. And ugly. And usually hairy, or perhaps scaly. Its social intelligence is far below the human norm even when its technical intelligence is reasonably high; these things can’t get along with one another for five minutes without lethal fights breaking out and as for coexisting with their neighbors, they make the Balkans look like a pacifistic Buddhist ashram.

There’s a strong tendency to put creatures like this into any fantasy story. I do it myself. Both trolls and goblins found their way into my Star Mages trilogy, and I put a species of troll into The Green Stone Tower as well. On stepping outside the bounds of humanity and introducing quasi-humans into a story, it seems there’s an irresistible urge to make at least some of them into sub-human brutes. The impulse is common enough to ask what this means on a mythic level.

It doesn’t really work to say that sub-human brutes are a dim perception or memory of our evolutionary forbears or our primate cousins, does it? While some primates superficially resemble a category of sub-human fantasy beastie — gorillas are much stronger than humans physically but not as intelligent — their behavior doesn’t match the “brutal” quality of fantasy beasties and there are no smaller-but-smarter examples; monkeys are less intelligent than we are as well as being smaller and slighter. While our evolutionary forbears are extinct, making similar observations about them impossible, we have no reason to believe them to have been moral degenerates comparable to Tolkien’s orcs.

So sub-human beasties are not dim cultural memories of Neanderthal or Homo erectus with whom our distant ancestors once shared the planet. They mean something else to us, something more in the nature of metaphor and myth — something with which we contend today.

Human beings, struggling into self-awareness and evolving socially and technically towards — well, towards something (it’s often a little hard to tell what, and a subject of some controversy) — we have a disconnect between our animal natures and what we choose and strive to be. We’re the only animal species that suffers from this weird kind of schism in our personality. We evolved with instincts designed by natural selection for a radically different milieu than the one we actually inhabit. Our earliest ancestors to be considered of the species H. sapiens were born between a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand years ago. The forerunners of civilized life, what might be called proto-civilization, first appeared some ten thousand years ago in the first neolithic farming communities, and civilization proper — life in cities — came into being maybe two thousand years after that. Between the birth of the first true human beings and the establishment of the first proto-civilized communities lies a span of at least ninety thousand and perhaps as much as a hundred and ninety thousand years: at least nine times as long and possibly nineteen times as long as we have been even remotely civilized. During that time, our ancestors lived in small bands where everyone knew everyone else and most people were related. They had no formal government or hierarchical religion. Everyone worked, but no one had a “job” in today’s sense; you went and hunted or harvested wild food plants or made tools or clothes or did what needed to be done and what you had the skill to do.

Obviously, the life we live today is very different from that. And so we have a disconnect between our natures as human animals, our instincts, and the conventions and norms of civilized behavior that is suffered by no other animal species except those we raise as pets.

Sub-human beasties, perhaps, represent our animal nature, severed from our human, conscious intent and moral values, and so operating not in a truly animal fashion but in a monstrous one. This is the upwelling of our own capacity for cruelty and depravity. We see it perhaps in war: the human being given destructive power far beyond what our distant ancestors could wield and allowed — no, required — to make use of it. Soldiers on the battlefield, terrorists, controllers of military drones, all exhibit goblin-like cruelty or ogre-like brutality as a matter of course in the mad circumstances of their lives. The mass-murderer, the serial killer, the lynch mob, the race riot, all show the descent of human beings into sub-human brutality. The sub-human beastie is the human being when the moral self goes silent. It is the festering sewer in our depths, the evil to which we can sink if we allow it.

And that’s why it’s such a compelling fantasy theme. It’s a way of depicting monstrous evil without any of the softening and restraining features that are normally present in human beings: a whole society of depraved, cruel things living in a nightmare of violence, betrayal, and loveless wickedness. We can stand to write about this and to read about it more easily because, hey, this isn’t really us.

But it is, of course. And if a writer is really skilled at using this motif, the connection between the sub-human beastie and human beings will be sufficiently clear.

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Book Review: Earth Angel by Ruth Ellen Parlour

I’m going to give this book some kudos for potential. Unfortunately, the potential has not yet been achieved. But I think a few steps could take care of that.

The good stuff first. The story line is solid, with lots of conflict and character development. The characters themselves are engaging. The author has an ability to evoke gritty, nasty circumstances and scenarios that could be developed into something very good, and I predict in the future she may go far.

What Earth Angel very badly needs, though, is editing. Not only editing but proofreading. I found a number of places where mistakes occurred that said to me the book had not been carefully gone over even by Ms. Parlour herself, because they were the kind of spelling and grammatical mistakes that would not be caught by a spell checker (i.e., the words were real words spelled correctly, but the word obviously intended by the context was not spelled that way), but would easily be seen by a human being carefully going over the manuscript before publication.

Besides the spelling and grammatical errors, the book was full of places where the language could have been tighter, where it was unclear, where it needed someone other than the author going over it and saying, “This needs to be stronger” or “This wording doesn’t really work here.”

The story has a lot of potential, but my feeling is that it was published before it was ready. This is, happily, a very easy problem to correct and to avoid in the future. Here are two good rules for any author who wants to self-publish. These are things that a publishing company does routinely, if not always very well. As indie authors, we don’t have a publishing company taking care of these things, and therefore the responsibility is ours. And it is a responsibility: a responsibility to our readers.

1) Always proof your work manually, and go over it for revisions repeatedly. Spell checkers and grammar checkers are great, but there are things they can’t catch and those things show up in every manuscript. Also, there’s no such thing as polishing a book too much (unless it means you never publish it). Go over and over your work. If you’re too familiar with it and can’t really see it, take a week or two away from it, or away from a given section of it, and then go back and read through it again. Polish, polish, polish!

2) Before you publish your book, always have at least one (and preferably more) people go over it and look for problems that need to be fixed. Get someone to tell you if the pacing is too slow or too fast, if you’ve done something with a character that doesn’t make any sense given the other things the character has done, if a plot line is implausible, or if the message the book is conveying is appropriate only to a lunatic. Ideally, have the book professionally edited; short of that, get another writer to look it over (perhaps trading with the writer by editing his or her work) — but always have someone’s eyes other than your own check it out and give you feedback.

I believe that Earth Angel can be very good if the author will go back and do these two things retroactively. One nice thing about indie publishing is that it is easy to make changes like this, as one is not committed to a massive print run. The potential is there.

Earth Angel at Amazon

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One or Many?

A dispute, at times breaking into violence, has smoldered for thousands of years between polytheists and monotheists, those who believe there are many gods and those who believe there is only one.

Polytheism is generally regarded as the older view, but I think that may be a little too facile, and too self-serving on the part of monotheists who like to think in terms of a progression from animism to polytheism to monotheism similar to the progress of science or in society, with their own views as the latest and most advanced. But very primitive peoples have sometimes had monistic or monotheistic conceptions, with a single spirit animating all of nature, and at least one modern religion, Hinduism, is polytheistic in practice even though its theology treats the question with some complexity. I don’t see any clear progression on a philosophical level. The triumph of Christianity and Islam in the western world came entirely from the alliance of those two religions with various states, including the Roman Empire, European monarchies, the Caliphate, and the monarchies of independent Muslim countries after the Caliphate dissolved. Now that this alliance is broken (for Christianity anyway), the dominance is being reversed and polytheistic religion is making a comeback.

History is rife with examples of the conflict between the ideas of one god and many. In Egypt in the 2nd millennium BCE, the Pharaoh Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and attempted to impose monotheistic religion on previously polytheistic Egypt. Being an absolute monarch, he succeeded; being mortal, however, his success did not endure. Akhenaten’s form of monotheism is called “henotheism” strictly speaking. He did not deny that other gods existed besides Aten, but insisted that no others were worthy of being worshiped. Egyptian society was highly conservative and seethed under Akhenaten’s religious reforms, which were quickly undone after his death.

The Bible contains a long tale of conflict between polytheism and monotheism. The Ten Commandments provided to the prophet Moses by JHVH, the god of the descendants of Abraham, commanded monotheolatry — worship of only one god — but did not proclaim monotheism. “You shall have no other gods before me” — not “I am the only God.” As far as the revealed nature of this deity who commanded exclusive worship, it was at first not terribly inspiring. He claimed, and in the stories demonstrated, that he was more powerful than other gods, and commanded obedience through threat of punishment. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Jews worshiped the friendlier and more compassionate gods and goddesses of their polytheistic neighbors whenever they thought they could get away with it, as is told particularly in the two Books of the Kings and the two Books of the Chronicles. In the end, the kingdom of Israel was divided by civil war and the two parts were devoured by the Assyrians and Babylonians. Captive in Babylon, the Jews underwent a religious crisis and transformation and emerged with a vastly altered conception of their god into a true universal deity — they became, more or less, Jews as that religion is practiced today.

The Q’uran contains many vitriolic passages condemning polytheism, which was practiced in Arabia before Mohammed elevated the Meccan moon god into a new name for the universal God of Abraham as worshiped in Judaism and Christianity. Islam contains a sort of hierarchy of other religions. Christianity and Judaism, being monotheistic religions in the same family as Islam, and based on the teachings of men the Q’uran regards as holy prophets, are treated with some respect and tolerance, while polytheistic faiths are condemned unequivocally. Islam has had its share of violent conflicts with Christianity and Judaism, but much worse is the conflict in India between Islam and Hinduism that has killed literally millions of people over the centuries since Muslims invaded India and established the Mughul Empire.

More examples could be presented, but the implication is clear enough: a conflict obtains between those who insist that there is only one god or that only one god should be worshiped and those who defend the validity of multiple gods. Monotheists are in this sense authoritarians and centralizers, while polytheists are libertarians and decentralizers. (This is not to say that polytheists can’t be authoritarian, just that the scope and reach of the claimed authority of a god is always limited when some other god can countermand it.)

As with most religious conflicts, this one in my opinion rises from cloudy vision. It arises, specifically, from forgetting (or never understanding in the first place) that religious ideas are metaphors. It also arises from placing too much absolute significance on the division between one thing and another.

Consider your own body. It can be treated as a single, unified whole — yet it also consists of the interaction of many organs and cells, each an entity in its own right. Each cell, in turn, consists of many complex molecules, each molecule of atoms, each atom of subatomic particles. Your body, moreover, is part of a society and part of a biosphere, either of which can also be treated as a whole, and the biosphere is part of a planet which is part of a solar system which is part of a galaxy which is part of the universe.

None of these levels of reality is any more “real” than the others, and so your body is simultaneously a whole entity, a composite of many entities, and a part of a larger entity. Are you one, or are you many? Both at once, obviously: it depends on your perspective.

The same is true of the gods. The universe, ultimately (by both reason and mystical experience) is one — but it manifests in a huge number of different forms. God being a personification of the universe, a metaphor for universal consciousness, he/she/it is also one — but also manifests in a huge number of possible forms. To encompass the totality of the cosmos is beyond the capacity of the human mind, not only because we just don’t have that high a brain-cell capacity but, more fundamentally, because we are part of the universe and so whatever we are observing/imagining (as opposed to being) it is, at best, the universe minus ourselves, which is not the whole thing.

And so it becomes useful to imagine the divine in more than one form, allowing us to relate to more than one aspect of it, each in a way that is within our limited capacity. At the same time, it’s also useful to remember that a unity underlies the diversity of our imagination.

What is not useful — and this is the error of monotheism — is to take a single deity, an image or concept that our minds can encompass (and that is therefore automatically not the whole) and treat that one as if it ruled alone and without rivals or peers.

“There is no God but God” is true when the god looks at another god and sees himself.

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Love And Power

The dichotomy between love and power is a central theme of my Star Mages trilogy. It’s also an important matter in spiritual thought and the pivot of most internal conflict.

We are torn between these two needs in our life.  Power lets us survive. Love lets us be happy. Without power, we cannot protect those we love. Without love, power self-destructs. So the two sides of ourselves need each other, and yet they are also in fundamental conflict. Ultimately, the conflict can only be resolved by an agreement defining one of the two as in service to the other.

Power

Power is the ability to manifest changes in reality in accordance with the will. (Some readers may recognize that as Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic, or “magick” as he preferred to call it. I have never liked that definition, believing it too broad and too sly to serve any honest purpose. It includes many things that are not, in any usual understanding of the word’s meaning, magic; at the same time, it excludes some magic done for spiritual or selfless purposes. As a definition of power rather than magic, however, it’s excellent.)

We begin learning power in infancy, as we master control of our own bodies and learn to eat, move on purpose, dress ourselves, speak, etc. Each new skill we learn adds to our power.

Power serves the self. Power is survival, and survival is always achieved at the expense of others — not always other human beings, but always other forms of life. To eat is to kill. To take up space and consume the resources of the biosphere is to deny those resources to competing organisms. Because you are alive, a number of other organisms are not. Because you have the job you do, someone else who competed with you for it and would have gained it if you had not applied does not. Because your parents raised you, they did not raise another child that might have been born in your place.

Everyone has a need and desire for power up to a point. The scope of power expands from the center in concentric rings: survival, comfort, creative expression, accumulation of wealth, exertion of influence, dominance over others, tyranny. At some point, for most people, the scope of power becomes sufficient and we say, “Enough. I have what I need.” For a few people, there is no such limit except what is imposed on them by practical necessity and conflict with others. The arenas of commerce at its most rarefied and of politics, whether within a nation or within an organization, are where those dedicated to the pursuit of power without limit contend with one another.

Love

Love emerges as a motivation at about the same time as power. We learn early the pleasure that comes from making another person happy, from social engagement for mutual joy, from play with someone else not as a struggle or competition but simply for enjoyment of another’s company.

The internal conflict between love and power also emerges early. A child pursues power by taking a toy or a treat that another child wanted, makes the other child sad and becomes sad himself — power has been served at the cost of love.

As we grow older, the capacity for love grows in tandem with the capacity for power and the choice between the two is ever-present. Complex layering happens as we achieve power for the protection of those we love, particularly our children: the need to maintain levels of power (a well-paying job, a secure home) in order to serve the needs of children becomes paramount. Here is the drive for power in service to love.

On the other hand, we may find ourselves in a situation of cultivating friendships for political gain or advancement in the business world or in other ways for what we can “get out of” the situation. Here is love bent to the service of power. We’re complex creatures. It’s all quite tangled.

Sex

All of life’s activities blend these two impulses, but surely none more so than sex. In making love, we give pleasure to another and take pleasure ourselves; we serve another and we are served; we may bend another to our will, or bend to the will of another, and do either by mutual agreement; in some cases we bring a new person into existence. Sex mingles power and love like nothing else.

At its simplest, sex is all about power. It’s all an attempt to get one’s rocks off and achieve pleasure and physical satisfaction, pure selfishness on the part of two people whose goals happen to be harmonious in one way or another. For a prostitute and her customer this is blatantly obvious, but even without an overt and crude commercial transaction sex can be entirely without love on the part of either participant.

But sex can also rise above that level, incorporating love into the mix of motives as we seek the pleasure of another and to form a bond with another person. Sex is sanctified and vilified in religious teaching more than any other human activity. It can be divine or diabolical or a combination of the two.

Resolution

It’s impossible not to follow both power and love. We require both. As Falcon said to his divided self, “I can see the necessity of power. Love without power might as well not exist. I need to be able to protect those I love, to give good things to them, and on a larger scale to do my part in bringing about a better world. I can’t do any of those things without power.” And as his dark side said in response, “I can also see the necessity of love. That is, it’s a part of me, and I cannot help loving others and caring about their well-being.” Without power, we cannot survive. Without love, life loses all meaning and we commit suicide, or in other ways arrange to die.

The real question before us and the conundrum of morality and enlightenment is what happens when a conflict between the two arises. Do we go with power, drawing lines between self and other, making the world a smaller place? Or do we go with love, embracing the unity between I and Thou, but losing an opportunity to make a change? It’s not a simple question to be answered simplistically. Ultimately, love is closer to the truth: the universe is One, and conflict among its parts is an illusion. And yet in our evolutionary past, conflict, struggle, and the concentration of power have increased our own capacity to know and understand and hence to love.

Remember the serpent in the Garden of Eden myth. Would we really have been better off as innocent, ignorant animals, without the knowledge of good and evil? The Fall of Man was as much rise as fall.

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The Goddess

In our quest to understand the incomprehensible, driven by the urges and inspirations of the god sense, we imagine the divine in many different forms. That-which-Is is neither this nor that: neither male nor female (or both at once); both human and non-human; it has no personality and yet contains all personalities; it is not a living thing and yet in it are the roots of all trees and the eggs of all creatures; it is at once Many and One, All and None.

As we make the transition from a male-dominated world into one of gender equality, it’s only to be expected that our imagination of the sacred would spark a return of the Goddess.

Hear now my call, beloved Mother, from whom all things proceed, and embrace my heart, that I may move beyond the boundaries of myself into oneness with you.

The Goddess has had a troubled history. Female visions of the holy first emerged in the late paleolithic or neolithic period, as people began to imagine the gods in their own image and naturally some of those images were female: the Great Mother, the Passionate One, the Lady of the Mysteries. By the time the paradigm of agrarian civilization with its full patriarchal structure came into existence, the Goddess was firmly enshrined in our ancestors’ worship and could not easily be dislodged. Religion can be a very conservative thing. The Goddess could be demoted to a subordinate role (compared to the gods, that is, not to mere men); she could be re-mythed as the wife of a god rather than the independent authority she had originally been (as was done with Hera and Aphrodite, Lakshmi and Sarasvati); male deities could be promoted over her to dominion of the pantheon, but she was still loved, still worshiped, still cherished and could not simply be done away with. A religious revolution and the emergence of faiths with no roots in pre-civilized life allowed the assertion of a male god with no female counterparts — even though thinking theologians recognized that God has no gender or encompasses both — but even so, the Goddess was never entirely lost, pushing her way into consciousness in the Hebrew propensity to worship Astarte, in the emergence of Sophia and the Virgin Mary within Christianity, in the many goddesses worshiped by Mahayana Buddhists. Still, the agrarian age was not a good time for the Goddess, as it was not a good time for women.

These days are better.

Sing to my soul and awaken my spirit to your desire and your rapture. Open my ears to the sacred song of life, that I may remember the source of my being.

The idea of the Goddess will of course be familiar to all of my Neopagan and Wiccan readers, but mainly in this post I want to explore how she is manifesting outside that religious structure in other religious imagining and practice, and also — as always — in fantasy fiction.

A search for “goddess in Christianity” reveals the existence of Christian movements to assert the bi-gender nature of God (as Mother, too, not just Father), and (naturally enough) diatribes by some against this movement. One may find articulation of the concept of the Shekinah, a Jewish feminine mystical conception that, in this thinking, morphed into the Holy Spirit of Christianity, and hence we find the Holy Spirit asserted to be a form of the Goddess. (Not orthodox Christian doctrine, obviously, but that’s beside the point.) Sophia, the Gnostic Goddess, has been revived by some Christians and merged in identity with the Holy Spirit as well.

A search for “goddess in Islam” reveals similar online currents. The Goddess in some Muslim thought that is gaining increasing prominence (particularly in the West, as one might expect) rises in the myths of Allah’s daughters (a pre-Muslim myth concerning the moon god of Arabic paganism who morphed into the universal deity of Islam), as well as worship of Mary (mother of Jesus), and of a feminine conception of God that is particularly powerful among the Sufi. It’s reasonable to expect that any Goddess manifestation possible in Christianity or Judaism could also spring up in Islam, but Islam seems to have its own versions that are not so pertinent to the other Abrahamic religions.

Are these Goddess manifestations orthodox and canonical according to the authorities within these faiths? Certainly not, but that’s all part of the revolutionary change happening in religion today. The Goddess emerges again both within and outside the established religions and there is no way to bar her path.

Let my face be the mask you wear to dance with your lovers. Let my words speak your wisdom and my voice resonate with your praise and the deeds of my body be offered in your worship.

In fantasy, the appearance of the Goddess, both literally as part of a pantheon and in the form of great (especially immortal) sorceresses, is too ubiquitous for anything approaching a complete list. Even Tolkien, who was in some ways quite misogynistic, felt  compelled by his muse to slip goddesses into his pantheon and to present goddess-like characters along the lines of Galadriel. The Goddess was prominently on display in Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. She was dealt with delightfully in Diane Duane’s Door Into Fire series. A browse through recently-published works reveals The Goddess Chronicles by Tracy Falbe, The Goddess Prophecies by D.R. Whitney, The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter, and enormous number of other titles with or without the word “goddess” in the title. It’s a growing theme on all levels of myth-making.

The return of the Goddess fills a hole in us that has been empty for a long time. It means the return of the sacred feminine: mythos itself, intuition, sensuality and loving passion, and a restoration of spirituality to its rightful place alongside and complementary to the rational and the linear. The thousands of years of agrarian civilization have been a dark, dark night and we are finally seeing the light of dawn. It remains to be seen what we will make of it, but among all the dangerous and frightening portents that face us, the return of the Goddess offers hope.

You are the Mother of all the universe. From you I proceed, to you I return, as a flame to the heavens or a raindrop to the sea, one with all in the embrace of your love, now and forever.

Image credit: katalinks / 123RF Stock Photo

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