“Framing Savage Defiance in Her Lips”: Why the Goddess Tiamat Matters Now More Than Ever

It’s been an exciting week for me as a Fellowship of Isis (FOI) priestess, one filled with personal publishing triumphs–I’ve released the Spring issue of IsisSeshat magazine, the official publication of the worldwide FOI available to the Pagan public, adhering to the Earth Day launch I scheduled for myself (email me if you’d like to buy the hard copy or PDF of it; see my Gravatar profile for my email address) and official interfaith representation at the civic level. On Tuesday the 21st, I attended a faith-based women’s leaders “Salon for Solutions” hosted by the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW), a prominent nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of Chicago’s women and girls through a tripartite platform of freedom from domestic violence, enhancing access to affordable healthcare, and fostering economic security.

CFW celebrates its 30th anniversary this September with a Symposium featuring Jane Fonda as its keynote speaker, and at that time CFW will launch a Civic Plan to Mayor Emanuel’s administration outlining its call to action for elevating Chicago’s women and girls. As part of formulating its Civic Plan, CFW reached out to several female faith-based leaders and social activists representing a diverse array of religious traditions and groups in this city. This past Tuesday, CFW hosted an afternoon “Salon for Solutions” at their downtown Chicago office; I’m happy to report that the Chicago chapter of the Fellowship of Isis was one of the groups invited, and my friend and current leader of FOI Chicago’s Lyceum of Alexandria, Demetria Nanos, and I attended. We were joined by my friend Rev. Angie Buchanan, the Director of Earth Traditions, as the “Pagan contingent” of the Salon for Solutions.

Also in attendance were Ms. Itedal Shalabi, the Executive Director of the Arab-American Family Services League, who discussed her campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence in Chicago’s Muslim community; the Rev. Nichelle Guidry-Jones, Associate Pastor to Young Adults at Trinity United Church of Christ; Wendy Witt, Associate Pastor at First United Methodist Church, who fought hard to get political leaders in Springfield to implement Marriage Equality; Ms. Lola Wright, the Executive Director of Bodhi Spiritual Center, a spiritual (not religious) organization whose mission is to “awaken individuals to live their inherent power and purpose”; and two social services case managers from the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (who asked me not to name them).

A diverse chorus of voices, indeed! And folks, it was mighty sensible–and prescient–of the two CFW Salon organizers and discussion leaders to announce at the outset that, even though we were all united in wanting to improve the lives of women and girls–and by extension, all people in all of our communities–in the city at large as well as foster the spiritual development of the women in our respective groups, mosques, temples, and congregations, by no means do we have to agree with each other. Respectful disagreement was anticipated and of course it happened, pretty much as soon as I opened my mouth to introduce myself as a Pagan provocateur. I said the reason why I welcomed the chance to add my perspectives to the data CFW was gathering in preparation of launching its Civic Plan was because it’s my holy mission in this lifetime to address the collective soul sickness wrought by the twin moral bankruptcies of scientific materialism, which, since the era of Descartes, has taught us to view Nature as an inert commodity (or series of commodities) worth exploiting, and Abrahamic religious dogmatism, which has bequeathed us in the Western world with a legacy of rampant misogyny and phallocentric transcendentalism in the quest to eradicate the memory of the Divine Feminine from mass consciousness, thereby denigrating all life on the planet in the process–to effect, in other words, nothing short of spiritual matricide.

I paraphrased my favorite quote from the late author Merlin Stone, whose book When God Was a Woman largely informed my coming to ecofeminist consciousness as a late adolescent: “Take away women’s rites, and you invariably take away women’s rights,” I all but hissed at the eyes fixated on me from around the large conference table.

I felt my blood boil.

I felt my bitten-down-to-the-nerves fingernails transform into sharp dragon claws.

I felt Tiamat standing behind me, Her hot breath streaming from Her strange snout, curling the hairs on the nape of my neck because I could fully anticipate the keening that was to come, with wings outspread and claws fiercely waving. Tiamat, Mother of Monsters. Tiamat the Enraged. Tiamat, Who, in the Enuma Elish, one of the Creation Stories from ancient Mesopotamia, emitted great cries while “framing savage defiance in Her lips” (Tablet IV, line 72) because She objected to having first Her husband, Apsu, and then Her children, slaughtered by the hosts of the Sky-God Anu.

“Savage defiance” forms my ethos as a priestess. “Savage defiance” is what must be donned as armor in the battle against the myriad overwhelming ecological and social injustices of our time. Continue reading

“‘You Wouldn’t Have to Kill Me'”: Haunted Women, The (Fe)Male Gothic, and Wide Sargasso Sea

“He commenced his walk, but soon again stopped and this time just before me.
“‘Jane! Will you hear reason?’ (he stooped and approached his lips to my ear;) ‘Because, if you won’t, I’ll try violence.'”–Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847), Ch. 27

Recent literary criticism has attributed an air of notoriety to the Gothic’s reputation for contesting conceptual boundaries. Encoded within Gothic narratives is a play of terms, of oppositions, which attest to a fundamental ambivalence: good depends on evil, light on dark, reason on irrationality, in order to define limits. This play of antitheses means that Gothic is an inscription neither of darkness nor of light, a delineation neither of reason and morality nor of superstition and corruption, neither real nor fantastic, but both at the same time (Botting 9). Such amorphous inclusiveness reflects a major problem of defining the “Gothic” itself. According to Sarolta Marinovich, for example, it is “not so much…a specific genre in literary history…but…a mode of writing to be found in novels and poems alike” (189). Little wonder that Julian Fleenor proposes that the Gothic “is a protean entity not one thing. There is not just one Gothic but Gothics” (4).

One of the factors surrounding the Gothic that has remained constant over the past three centuries is its affiliation with women. Indeed, from its late-eighteenth century inception as a genre to its twentieth century “drugstore” incarnation as a formulaic “romantic novel stamped by a brooding sense of mystery and terror” (Whitney 11), the Gothic has been considerably shaped by women. According to the findings of feminist literary theory and criticism, the Gothic, either as a genre or “mode of writing,” suits women writers’ purpose: not only can it give voice to the (hitherto unmentionable) female condition of marginalization in androcentric society, but it can do so indirectly, given the Gothic world’s precarious balance of “the real” and “the fantastic” (van Leeuwen 37).

“As early as the 1790s,” states Ellen Moers, “Ann Radcliffe firmly set the Gothic in one of the ways it would go ever after: a novel in which the central figure is a young woman who is simultaneously persecuted victim and courageous heroine” (91). For many feminist critics, who claim that the victim aspect is more pronounced in Gothic than its counterpart, the affinity between gender and genre is problematic: while the terror and rage that women experience within patriarchal social arrangements (especially marriage) may find expression, Gothic resolutions all too often entail an affirmation of the status quo, pointing to the notorious ambivalence of Gothic fiction. According to Tania Modleski, for instance, “Gothics, like Harlequins, perform the function of giving expression to women’s hostility towards men while simultaneously allowing them to repudiate it” (66). Kate Ellis maintains that the Gothic novel creates, “in a segment of culture directed toward women, a resistance to an ideology that imprisons them even as it posits a sphere of safety for them” (x). Michelle Massé argues that “the husband who was originally defined by his opposition to the unjust father figure slowly merges with that figure. The heroine again finds herself mute, paralyzed, enclosed” (20). In short, the maiden of the Radcliffean mould may act bravely, but she cannot surmount the sphere of woman’s socially enforced helplessness. Continue reading

March 19, 2008: On the Fifth Anniversary of the Illegal and Immoral Occupation of Iraq

By way of editorial commentary: As the great Yogi Berra once quipped, “It’s deja vu all over again.” As the drum beats for war in the Middle East once again reverberate loudly to catch the attention of the American Sheeple, I thought of this poem I wrote on the date of the 5-year anniversary of the Iraq War, which should have been called “Operation Enduring Bullshit” (I’m all about truth in advertising). This process is so formulaic, surely I can’t be the only person seeing the template of (a) a democratically elected president, once he’s fallen out of usefulness/favor with the U.S., gets demonized as a “dictator” (e.g., Hussein, Mubarak, Gaddafi, and now al-Assad); (b) the U.S. covertly funds destabilizing agents, first praised by the media as stalwart “rebels” against an oppressive “regime” (think “Star Wars,” folks) to depose said “dictator”; (c) the “rebels” armed and trained by the U.S. turn out to be terrorists; (d) “blowback” on a major scale erupts; (e) a series of highly publicized atrocities elicit commentary from the POTUS on inevitable military action; (e) the shareholders of Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, et al, applaud fervently. To quote the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.”

Well, as a Pagan priestess who loves to wear her critical thinking cap and remind people, even through her bumper stickers, that “YOU CAN’T KILL FOR PEACE,” I want to offer my poem “On the Fifth Anniversary of the Illegal and Immoral Occupation of Iraq” in the hopes of blockading the march to war. Salaam.

March 19, 2008

I’m having a Sylvia Plath evening

of arduous domesticity, where poetry

leers between loads of laundry,

bidding me to take up the pen

while Tide Pure Essentials with Baking Soda™

valiantly tries to scrub the menstrual blood

from my newly stained underwear

I’m not the only creature bleeding in the world today

Is blood spilt in the desert easier to sweep away? Continue reading

“The Divine Feminine Propels Us Onward”: The Legacy of 19th-Century Romanticism for Today’s Spiritual Seekers

Editorial Note: This essay was first published in Pantheon, the official journal of Chicago’s Life Force Arts Center, a gallery and performance space dedicated to literary, performing, and visual arts rooted in spiritual expression. I retain all copyrights.


 

“The Divine Feminine Propels Us Onward”:

The Legacy of 19th-Century Romanticism for Today’s Spiritual Seekers

How comfortable are you in describing yourself as a creator? Do you identify as one? Why or why not? Is that term solely reserved for artists? Or parents? Or the holders of patents? Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re breathing new worlds into being on a regular basis. Performing on open mic night. Whipping up an amazing quiche, baked from scratch. Delivering a solid presentation that ends up landing new accounts for your business. Creation is our divine mandate; it’s something we’re all called to do. It’s our divine birthright as creatures made in the image of God/dess/Spirit/Ultimate Reality—whatever you want to call It, that ineffable Source of our truest, highest selves. Continue reading

A Night with Starhawk and the “Goddesses of the End Times”

By way of editorial comment: I wrote this essay the day after the event happened back in November 2006. I tried getting it published in Sage Woman and Circle Magazine at the time but never received word. Well, now that I’m in the blogosphere, I can release it into the world–Namaste, Bitches--as was my intent for all Pagans who appreciate Starhawk’s work in the world to enjoy.

It came unbidden and electrifying, the chance to see in person the woman who altered the course of my spiritual unfolding in this lifetime when I was but a fifteen-year-old seeker: Starhawk. Continue reading