I have always been fascinated with the concept of magic. Fairy tales and science fiction have always filled my bookshelves, and I have favored stories that emphasize characters that have ordinary lives, but have extra-ordinary abilities. As a child, I would read and re-read these tales, convinced that there was something more, something hidden behind the words that would empower me to alter my reality and reshape it into something beautiful. From an early age I became convinced that there is a real, distinct human potential that is yet unknown, but can be harnessed and directed toward specific goals. The challenge is merely unlocking the secret to it, and putting this knowledge into practice.
When I make these statements, I usually get two reactions. The first is total acceptance, accompanied by an echoing sentiment, of, "Absolutely, I totally get it, me too!" The second is a slightly stunned expression, a polite (though sometimes impolite) question of, "Why?" This article is written precisely to answer that question, and give a bit of background into my thought process and methodology. Consider this essay a sort of preamble to my book, The Priestess and the Pen. It is provided to give interested folks a peek into my mind, and my personal motivation for writing the book.
Like many, my childhood was not ideal. There were many variables that contributed to this, but the most pertinent to today's topic are those that created constant conflict for me from an early age. The first was the dysfunctional family dynamic (which has sadly become somewhat the norm for many Americans). The chaotic environment of dealing with family members wrestling with depression, substance abuse, and various states of mental unrest gave me a unique understanding on the interplay of fantasy and reality, and how one's perspective is a critical component to creating effective change in one's world. There is a popular slang term for this: "GIGO," or, "Garbage in, garbage out."
Constantly imbibing in self-defeatist or negative thinking absolutely clouds one's mind, and impairs one's ability to achieve positive results. This is no revelation, but it was an important concept for me early on. While many factors in life are random or uncontrollable, the one thing that is mine is my mental space. As a child, one does not have the authority to dismiss or avoid negative experience. However, a kid can dream. My first step to achieving mental freedom was to honor my dreams, and to arm myself with the tools and knowledge that would empower me to create the future that I wanted, instead of repeating the patterns of my past.
The second aspect that contributed to my early development was dealing with a constant flow of criticism and misogyny. While I am happy for those who have not experienced these challenges, for those of us that were raised in less enlightened households, this type of talk and action can be severely debilitating. It is a constant struggle to neutralize one's early programming, and to overcome these limitations. Every time I hear someone say, "Isn't feminism dead?" or read some other sentiment along these lines, it makes me realize that there are folks out there who simply have not had to deal with conflicts or problems related to their gender. I do not begrudge others who have been privileged in this respect, but I do believe that education is the only antidote to ignorance. From my own personal experience, growing up in a home in which being female was a clear disadvantage, I can state with utter certainty that feminism is not only necessary, but very much alive.
For myself, it became important to dream about successful women who overcame adversity to create something new. It gave me a sense of security, and provided a compass I could use to navigate uncharted territory. Before I began much biographical research into actual historical figures, my first exposure to these concepts came primarily from fiction. My favorite stories have always featured witches and sorceresses, warrior women and queens. The image of the powerful woman, whether she is a hero or a villain, speaks to me. As the Evil Queen casting a curse, the resourceful heroine thwarting the wicked spell, or simply a girl fated for an inexplicable, life-altering event, whoever she is, my favorite characters all have one thing in common. Friend or foe, she uses magic to radically alter her life. Magic is the constant variable in each tale, and is a metaphor for personal power. Ever present, it is available to those with the wit and tenacity to access it, to use its power for good or for evil. Its consequences are completely dependent upon the character of those who employ it.
People have always commented on how fortunate I am, stating that I have been blessed with many natural gifts, and it is clear that I come from "good people." I accept these compliments with gratitude, but often wonder at how folks come to their conclusions based on such limited information. People commonly misunderstand that despite someone's outward appearance, there are many factors that contribute to one's success or failure. Everything is not dependent on one's family connections, and some folks still manage to thrive despite adverse conditions. "Good" and "bad" are subjective terms. "Good" people can make "bad" decisions, and these events will effect everyone in their circle. In my opinion, it is the repercussions of these choices that determines their value. In my family, the final component that cemented my world view, and utter conviction that magic is real, was the constant conflict between my personal philosophy and the religious tradition of my elders.
While my parents were not religious, my grandparents were born-again Christians, and very active in their Southern Baptist church. From an early age my grandmother was extremely concerned with the state of my soul, and was convinced that I would surely burn without strict guidance. She confided in me that she believed that I would become a heathen if she did not take an active role in my religious education, so she set out to prevent my being "led astray" to the best of her ability. While the intent was pure, the methods she employed clearly did not achieve her original goal.
This course of action created much conflict, and I became convinced that there must be something to this whole magic thing if the very idea of it generated so much fear and anguish in those who loved me. Attempts at forcing me to acknowledge the inherent danger in questioning authority, and to embrace submissiveness in thought and deed as a natural byproduct of being born female were not successful. If anything, the whole experience had quite the opposite effect. I instead became determined to research others like myself, who had questions that were not answered by the standard narrative. I gathered what scraps and innuendo I could from fiction, and when I reached my majority, set out to research alternative history and actual people that would give me some perspective on these matters.
So all of these experiences, along with some unusual educational choices, laid the groundwork for The Priestess and the Pen. While the bulk of the text is based on historic and academic data, the real beginning of the story started in my formative years. I purchased a copy of The Mists of Avalon when I was eleven years old, and it felt like a gong had gone off in my mind. The book expressed so many of the themes that I had been searching for, and introduced me to the concept of the Goddess, as well as her earthly counterpart, the Priestess.
These ideas resonated so strongly with me that that I had no doubt of their authenticity. It made no difference that the story was fiction. The image of the Priestess burned in my imagination. She became emblematic of the changes I wished to manifest in my own life. She was magical, educated, empowered, and consecrated to the Goddess for a sacred purpose. This was something to which I could relate, something that I was determined to investigate further. I needed to find out how these ideas were connected, and during the course of this experience, realized that there are others out there with similar questions and interests. I created the book in an attempt to organize and convey the information that I have gleaned for those who are also excited by these concepts, and wish to take their own research somewhere new. It is my sincere hope that the book is anything but definitive, and instead inspires others to take these concepts further and improve upon them.
In The Priestess and the Pen, I have analyzed the character of the Priestess throughout twentieth-century science-fiction and fantasy as a template of the idealized spiritual woman, in effort to explore the archetype of the contemporary Goddess. The goal is to discuss the evolution of the Goddess in the West in the twentieth century, by describing a literary lineage of female authors who have used speculative fiction and trance writing to create a new vision of the female ideal that is both modern and Divine. Although she claims antique origin, the fictional Priestess is clearly a modern concept, and describes a woman who is both secular and sacred, dedicated to advancing the consciousness of her culture through self-determination and sexual empowerment. Combining elements of traditional doctrine along with radical philosophy, the Priestess reveals a syncretic, and sometimes contradictory image of both woman and Goddess. By reviewing the images and archetypes of the past and present, the Goddess of the future begins to emerge.
If you find these concepts intriguing, and have enjoyed this small taste of my thoughts, merry meet! I invite all interested parties to pick up a copy of the book, and welcome feedback. The strongest magic begins with a vision, shared and multiplied. I look forward to opening a conversation about these topics so that today's dreams may become tomorrow's reality.