Monthly Archives: July 2012

Things I’ve Done….(Poem)

I’ve rescued a princess
(she wasn’t in another castle that time)
I’ve taken up a whip
and used it to kill Dracula
(several times)
I’ve climbed the tallest buildings in Italy
killed a man via hidden blade to the head
(it was very satisfying)
I’ve killed the one who murdered the Black Dahlia
(he was hiding behind a gravestone, the coward!)
I’ve had an argument with a stop sign
I’ve killed dragons by shouting at them
I’ve been a monster slayer
(Silver or steel?)
I’ve saved the galaxy
no less than three times
(I’ll miss you, Normandy!)
I’ve recruited the 108 Stars of Destiny
(that was difficult)
I flirted with Bann Teagan
he didn’t care that I was an elf
or a lesbian
(I didn’t care either)
I’ve learned that “…Whatever”
is apparently endearing
especially to sorceresses
and that all my problems can be solved
with tarot cards
and parts of myself
which wage war with Shadows
Perhaps these experiences
are not so useful
except when a life
is enriched
through play

(If you can name every game I referenced in that poem, I will be impressed.)

Magical Systems in the Fantasy Genre

The presence of magic in the fantasy genre is pretty much a given, whether its something that is commonplace, the province of a certain sect, or a feature of the distant past that doesn’t really figure into the present. Magic is to fantasy what advanced technology is to science fiction (do you see what I did there?). I knew that magic was something I definitely wanted to include in my story, so here are some things I like to think about as I attempt to iron out the tweaks in my system.

Rules

This section could be broken up into several different sections, but in general, how rules-intensive is magic in your story? S0me authors like it when their magic adheres to very strict rules requiring creativity on the part of a character who wants to bend or break the rules (Brandon Sanderson is a good example of this type). Personally, I prefer a simpler approach to magic for the simple reason that, even if I have a cheat sheet in front of me, at some point I WILL forget the rules (and readers will scream “Why did the protagonist show complete disregard for the rules?”) and that will end badly.

Sources of Magic

Where does magic come from? What does a practitioner draw on in order to fuel their magic? In my story, magic has divine origins. Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files) states several times that magic runs on life energy (necromancy, which does the opposite, horrifies Dresden), Atticus (The Iron Druid Chronicles) draws his power from the Earth. Sometimes magic is just “there” and is as natural to the world’s inhabitants as breathing.

Who can wield magic?

Is magic something someone is born with or is it something anyone can learn? Is there a group (or groups) of people who make the study of magic their sole priority? (Mages, in other words.) Are there any other restrictions? In Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, for instance, only (male) Sorcerers can use sorcerer spells and only (female) Witches can use witch spells. In the Black Jewels Trilogy, most magic (especially healing) is restricted to women, although one can train to become a Black Widow (who specialize in illusions and poisons) few manage to complete the training (and only one man, who passed the abilities onto his son).

Non-magical Folk

How does your story treat non-magical people? If non-magical people are dominant, do they attempt to suppress magical folk? Enslave them? Cooperate with them? Do those who have magic look down on their non-magical counterparts? Do they see it as their duty to use their abilities to protect non-magical folks, or something else entirely? In my own story, those who choose not to wield magic are generally not discriminated against, and not having magic isn’t a barrier towards entering any profession.

The Price of Magic

I think many authors realize that if mages threw around magic all the time with no penalties, many novels would be very, very short. 🙂 Put simply: What is the cost of doing magic? A common price is that certain magic draws on the caster’s life energy, or they end up being “drained” in some way, madness is another side effect. Are there any taboos regarding how magic should be used (for instance, no using magic to directly take a life)? Are there things that nullify (or significantly weaken) magic? (Cold iron is a popular choice.) Are there things that a magical practitioner just can’t do due to their use of magic? (An example would be how wizards in The Dresden Files can’t use or be in close proximity to electronics.)

This is just scratching the surface, IMO, as magical systems are really as varied as the authors that create them, but those points are what I keep in mind as I write. If you see anything I’ve missed, let me know in the comments!

Moral Choice Systems

Now that I’ve fulfilled my “talking about religion” quota for the moment, I feel I can justifiably take a break and talk about video games some more.

Including some sort of moral choice system (whether along a “saintlike” and “OMG EVIL!” axis or simply via the computer tracking your choices) isn’t something that is considered revolutionary in games (if it ever was) but lately it seems as if more and more developers are inserting some sort of system into their game that tracks the player character’s morality (giving them an appropriate ending).

I think if this blog were more popular, gamers would swarm it with hateful comments were I to say this, but I actually don’t mind moral choice systems. However, I think there are many ways in which moral choice systems fail to be very effective in engaging the player, here are just a few:

Make one choice that’s counter to your alignment? Congratulations, you’re stuck with that alignment for the rest of the game!

So you’ve spent the whole game being an absolute saint. You stop to help everyone (over the objections of your party members, in some cases), perform endless fetch quests (even though the townspeople are perfectly capable of doing the tasks themselves) and so on and so forth. Then, towards the end of your quest, you’re presented with a choice, and just once, you decide to go with the less than saintly option.

Congratulations! You are now Evil McEvilson for the rest of the game!

This is a problem that mostly effects games that have a moral choice system that uses a good/evil axis, as late in the game, your decisions tend to give you more “points” on one side or another, the unfortunate side effect of this is that one bad (or good) decision can potentially push you over to the other side and “lock” you into that side for the rest of the game. Jade Empire is a great example of this issue in action. Did you make a certain Closed Fist decision towards the end of the game? Congratulations, it doesn’t matter how long you spent picking every Open Palm option, you’re now irredeemably evil!

Lack of Options

When making a decision in a game, most often in games with a clear alignment system, you will get one choice that amounts to “Good” and one that amounts to “Evil”. Even in games that don’t track your alignment, you usually have the option of one “Good” choice, one “Evil” choice, and maybe one that’s more in-between (sometimes picking this option nets you something the other choices wouldn’t give you). The end result is that the player is very limited regarding the kinds of choices they are allowed to make in-game.

Obviously, I think expecting the developers to include scenarios that encompass every sort of reaction a player might have is unrealistic, but there have been many cases in games where I’ve wondered why I couldn’t take a third option or do something a little extra to accumulate good/evil points (such as withholding an object from someone until I’m paid for it or giving something back at no charge).

Rewards Tend to Favour One Alignment Over Another

I read an article about this a couple of years ago, and basically what it said is that developers tend to attempt to influence the player’s morality by giving them more rewards for choosing the “good” option. I don’t think it’s as sinister as that, but it does seem to imply that the “evil” choice is the easiest way out.

The thing is, that given the choice between getting a cool sword and being good and not getting a cool sword and being evil, players will usually opt for the cool sword (unless they’re the type that just likes causing mayhem). I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve chosen one path simply because I know it’ll give me a better reward.

Now that I’ve looked at some issues that plague moral choice systems, here are some examples of games that at least try to address these problems:

The Witcher

I love love LOVE The Witcher (and its sequel Assassins of Kings) because no choice in the game is ever a simple matter of good vs. evil. For instance, do you choose to give up a suspected witch to an angry mob–even after you’ve found evidence that she isn’t entirely innocent of the things the villagers accuse her of doing? Do you choose to aid a group of rebels who desperately need supplies? The best part is that the impact of your decisions isn’t entirely felt until a few hours later, so you won’t be able to save beforehand and make another decision if you didn’t like your choice.

Dragon Age: Origins

The developers of DA: O cite The Witcher as one of their influences, and it shows. Like The Witcher, there’s no meter that tracks your “good” or “evil” decisions, and while many decisions do seem rather cut and dry, the game does throw in a few grey areas just to keep you on your toes. Dragon Age 2 also adds in “helpful”, “snarky” and “aggressive” dialogue choices and tracks how many you make (snarky!Hawke is my favourite, but aggressive!Hawke is just badass.

Mass Effect (and Sequels)

The Mass Effect games have a more traditional “good” (Paragon choices) and “evil” (Renegade choices) system. Although, I should stress that “good” and “evil” don’t really describe either alignment, one is more co-operative and diplomatic, the other very racist pro-human, get the job done, why aren’t we seeing to the mission the mission is important. What really sets Mass Effect apart, though, is that Paragon and Renegade points are tracked on separate meters–making a choice in either direction doesn’t (usually) result in an automatic loss in the opposite direction, so my pure Paragon Shepard in Mass Effect 3 was able to make one Renegade choice in the entire game without having people treat her like Satan incarnate (if you’re wondering which choice she made, let’s just say a certain assassin won’t be able to sit comfortably for a long time–or ever, actually).

Reconstructionism is Like Cake

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, I’m not a reconstructionist. I could go into the reasons for this in plain English, but I’m in the mood for some food metaphors today, so here goes.

Let’s say you want to make a cake, say, one your grandmother made when you went to visit her all the time, or whatever (adjust this metaphor to suit your family situation) and you want it to be as close to the original cake as possible. So you start assembling your ingredients, and so far everything is going well until you hit a snag–for whatever reason, you don’t have one of the ingredients on the list. Maybe it’s because whatever your grandmother used just doesn’t exist anymore in that area (an example would be margarine with the dye in the package) or perhaps an ingredient that is plentiful in her country of origin isn’t available in yours. You have a few options: you can import the needed ingredient, or you can substitute that ingredient for one that’s more readily available.

Next comes the actual preparation. Now, if you were actually trying to re-enact the process that your grandmother used to make cake, my bet is that it would take you a very long time (starting with having to churn butter, milk cows, gather eggs….). However, I’ll be merciful and say that you’re allowed to use modern appliances. Once the cake is all done and in the pan, you’d better hope to gods that your grandmother put down how much time it would take to bake the cake (and at what temperature) or even if she put down measurements at all (luckily, I have mom around to consult when my grandmother forgot or just didn’t see these details as important).

Now, stay with me, because here’s the kicker….

You could have all the right ingredients, prepare it the exact way grandma did (with a wood stove and everything) and sweat and slave over it all day….

….and it still wouldn’t be your grandmother’s cake.

The fact of the matter is that it is your cake, and will always be your cake, and no matter how often you say “but this is how the ancestors grandma did it” the fact is that it is still your cake, created in 2012 with equipment and ingredients from 2012.

Now, I know that many reconstructionists will say that they don’t go so far as to track down all the companies and import all the ingredients necessary to make a cake, nor do they confine themselves to using only those techniques that would have been used when baking the cake. Even the most hardcore of hardcore reconstructionists realizes that it’s impossible to accurately reconstruct every aspect of cake-baking as it was done way back when.

What I do find problematic, however, is when some say “This is a cake recipe, how DARE you turn it into muffins!” or “You added dates instead of raisins? WTF?” or assuming that one recipe is the only way to make a certain cake, even when we have evidence that other grandmothers were using other recipes during the same time period. This is all assuming that everyone’s grandmother left them a complete recipe, and that everyone can read the chicken scratch that passes as handwriting. This is also assuming that every recipe your grandmother ever had was written down.

I think this last part, more than anything I’ve said, is what turns newbies away from reconstructionism. There’s a lot of dogmatism and craptastic attitudes among a certain segment of the reconstructionist community, and I think that is what hurts Heathenry way more than the “fluff bunnies” everyone likes to gripe about–and then they turn around and wonder why more people embrace Wicca. Um, really?

The Ancestors

I just came back from a family reunion in Quebec. I learned some fascinating things about my recent ancestors, but before I get to that (stay there or you’ll miss the part about the murders!), here’s a bit about me and ancestor veneration in general.

Many Heathens will tell you that the pantheon doesn’t really get involved in human affairs much, so if you have an issue that doesn’t affect people on a global (or cosmic) scale, you would be better off going to your ancestors for help. I have some strong opinions regarding this divine “hands-off” approach to relationships (suffice it to say that if the ancestors can call on deities to help them with brewing beer and rescuing children from trolls, chances are they do take an interest in what “regular” people are doing) but that’s another post entirely (and besides, if you know me on Facebook, you’ve heard this from me a million times).

Anyways, the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve never felt especially connected my ancestors. I found the myths first–stolen necklaces, battles with giants, trickery, at least one separation, and at the end of the world there’s this big fight where the two sides destroy each other and humans have to start all over again. Even today, the sagas bore the Hel out of me. I refuse to go through the sagas with a fine tooth comb to quote mine for instances where some guy pours mead on a rock because I can’t think of a good way to start a ritual. I’d rather DO ritual and worry about it being 100% ancestor-approved later, but again, that’s another topic….

The other issue I had is that I don’t just have one family, I have two, an adoptive and a biological family. Ever since I learned that I was Romanian, every St. Patrick’s Day  I would stand in the middle of the house and yell “I’m NOT Irish, I’m Romanian!” at the top of my lungs, because if I heard another rendition of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” I was going to murder someone with a rusty fork. However, if I really thought about it, I didn’t really have any connection to my Romanian roots either, because I didn’t really have any interest in contacting my biological family at that point.

Anyways, I’m supposed to be talking about the family reunion I went to. I walked down to the house and barn where my mom grew up. The woods that we passed used to be the place where they went haying (!). The house and barn are nearly swallowed by plants (particularly raspberries, delicious raspberries). Mom remembers how the snow came up so high in the winter that she and my aunts could climb on the roof. I can’t imagine what she was seeing. seeing her childhood home in the process of being devoured by the local fauna. Also, I almost couldn’t make it up the hill again and ended up nearly stumbling into the path of a car, so yay for not being a pancake!

Once I was able to sit down and drink close to a full bottle of cold water, my cousin did a presentation on our recent-ish ancestors. I don’t remember all of it (I’m still waiting for him to send me some stuff), but here’s some of what I do remember:

Most of my ancestors came from County Kilkenny in the province of Leinster, Ireland: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilkenny

Some first names that keep cropping up among my ancestors were Thomas and James for males and Catherine and Bridget for females. My great-grandparents finally showed some originality by naming my grandfather Lincoln.

My ancestors were farmers. Back in those days (mid 1800s), a large farm was “one pig and two horned animals”.

While doing research on my ancestors, my cousin uncovered four murders that were connected to their community. A couple were directly tied to the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the area. One was an assassination. My cousin’s favourite case involves a man who gave the blue ribbon to the wrong sheep in a contest, a brawl ensued, and my ancestor, Thomas Tuite (pronounced something like “Choot”) is on record as one of the people who tried to pull the brawlers off the poor guy. He died anyways, but I’m still proud of my ancestor for doing the right thing. In case you’re wondering, no, none of my ancestors from that time period murdered anyone (although, my cousin thinks he knows who assassinated that one guy).
Basically, I came out of that lecture having learned these things:

1) Irish people fight a lot

2) Catholics vs. Protestants is serious business

3) If you ever find yourself in a sheep judging contest, just…abstain from judging, seriously

4) If you shoot someone, you just might find yourself being shipped to Tasmania (this actually happened)

So ends my brief report on what I learned about my adoptive family during the weekend.

World-Building

You know why writing speculative fiction (particularly sci fi and fantasy) is so fun? You get to let your imagination run wild. I would argue that of the two, fantasy actually gives the writer more freedom, because they aren’t constrained by science or (for the most part) creating plausible explanations for why dragons exist beyond “Dragons exist–go and slay them,” but that really depends on the kind of science fiction you’re writing.

Anyways, I could turn this into another gripe-fest about how much potential the genre has and how authors like to waste that potential by writing “elves vs. dwarves” over and over and over again (because that’s what sells, duh!), but I’d like to talk about world-building in general.

The thing about building your own world is that there are a whole lot of elements to consider and a bunch of ways to play with those elements. Clothing, for instance, is there a particular style of clothing or a certain colour that’s restricted to certain types of people? More generally, how does clothing reflect a person’s status (both economic as well as denoting life stages and professions)? What does a typical meal consist of? What foods are eaten during special occasions? How do characters speak to one another? What are some standard forms of address? Are there forms of address that are perfectly acceptable in one place but considered insulting in another? How does magic work? (I should probably devote a whole post to magic systems.) This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to world-building. I could tackle world-building by category (Government, Economics, Religion, Food, etc.) and still have a ton of questions to ask, as you might expect, I don’t think anyone really has the time to tackle all of these in great detail, and some elements won’t be as crucial to the story as others.

I started writing this post thinking that I should give examples of “good” world-building and “bad” world-building, but, now that I think about it, it’s so subjective that I can’t give you a proper response. Most of the time, when I don’t find the world compelling, it’s due to bad writing, not the world itself. This is when I catch myself saying “I wish [author] had thought of this. They could do it so much better!” and I have done this numerous times. In fact to get at what really bugs me, I’m going to have to switch to talking about another genre at the moment: paranormal romance.

First, a disclaimer, I loathe romance novels. However, I am occasionally willing to tolerate paranormal romance because at least it has vampires (and ghosts, and witches, and whatever) but (and this is perhaps turning into a rant about hybrid genres in general) I can’t really think of another genre I’ve read that just kind of throws elements into a story in a way that just smacks of trying to make it seem “edgy”.

So you have vampires? Okay, that’s cool, I can handle that. Half-vampires? No problem! A vampire/werewolf/fairy hybrid? Um, what?

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m willing to accept that maybe, in this universe, it’s certainly possible that someone with fae blood was bitten by a vampire and THEN bitten by a werewolf, but the thing that really gets me is this is frequently done with no explanation whatsoever. It’s like the author reached into a grab bag of supernatural creatures and was like “Okay, I’ll take this, this, and this.” Maybe I’m missing the point, and romance readers really just want to get back to….you know….the romance, but it just seems like the genre tends to pay much more attention to the romance and the paranormal is window dressing (although, I guess if they put too much emphasis on the paranormal, it would be urban fantasy).

Anyways, this started off as a post about world-building and became a rant about paranormal romance, go figure.

Strong Female Characters

I’m on the rag feeling a little under the weather today, so I decided to draw a random card from my “pick-me-up” deck, the Mythical Goddess Tarot.  The card I drew was the 7 of Fire (Courage). (Click link for image.)

I’m not sure what it has to do with my current situation, but it does remind me of today’s topic: strong female characters.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like the phrase “strong female character”. It seems like it’s trotted out to describe any female character who shows an ounce of personality beyond that of a doormat. We never talk about “strong male characters”. Why? We don’t because we assume that male characters will naturally be well-rounded and interesting, and I think that is what many people mean when they talk about “strong” characters. They want characters who are interesting. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all female characters need to kick copious amounts of ass to be interesting. A character who tries to carve her own niche in a rigidly patriarchal society can be interesting without having to resort to epic sword fights.

Here I’d say a few words about “Mary Sue” characters, but I would refer you to this excellent post about the Mary Sue as a sexist concept.

I think that everyone has character types that tick them off. For me, I hate when we are told a female character is skillful, experienced, and an all-around kick ass chick–only to see her spend the entirety of a series needing to be rescued, or the writers somehow downplaying her skills so the (usually male) main character can still be the focus of the story. TV Tropes has a term for this, the Faux Action Girl. For a good example of this concept in action, I’d recommend reading this post on Anna Valarious from the movie “Van Helsing”.  I also can’t stand perpetually angry characters. There are characters who get angry, and then there are characters like Kratos from God of War, who is so angry the second game could easily be called “God of Anger” and it would be correct.

One other accusation that is brought against female characters in fiction is that they are “men with boobs” and (as you might expect) I don’t agree with this concept either. It seems to me that it’s always applied to women who are aggressive, intimidating, or just plain angry. In short, women who exhibit traditionally “masculine” characteristics. Female characters can kick ass, but not too much ass, because kicking copious amounts of ass is a man thing, women, being smaller and weaker than men, can’t realistically take on twelve baddies at once, even if your world has dragons and people have the ability to throw fireballs. Also, because all women have the same body type and no access to combat training.

Look, just go read Badass of the Week. Not only is it highly entertaining, you might learn a thing or two. The Badass of the Week as of this writing is Hawa Abdi. You will find plenty of gun-toting badass women I talked about earlier on that site, but IMO, you try facing down 750 Somali pirates and not crapping your pants, BTW, you’re unarmed, and they have machine guns, RPGs, and mortar launchers.  Good luck!

Anyways, I guess what I want to see is more interesting characters in general. I want characters who are strong, smart, funny, charismatic, villainous, conniving, playful, pious, tough, sensitive, and weird regardless of the bits between their legs or the boxes they choose to check off. I want characters I can root for and I want characters that I love to hate, that’s it. Give me something interesting, dammit!

Review: Temple of the Twelve, Volume 1: Novice of Colors

I first became interested in this series from an off-hand comment made on LiveJournal (I have no idea what it was about). I had some misgivings at first (particularly when I saw that Silver RavenWolf had endorsed the book) but the concept was intriguing enough that I decided to give the book a try.

The concept, in case you’re wondering, is a teaching tool wrapped up in a coming-of-age tale. In fact, it could easily be adapted into a year-long course of study as the reader follows the protagonist on her journey.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Our main character is Caroline, a young woman who arrives at the Temple of the Twelve seeking to become a priestess. The titular Twelve are personifications of colours, and each one represents a particular archetype and set of correspondences. In no particular order, we have:

Lady Black
Lord Brown
Lady Pink
Lord Orange
Lord Gold
Lady Yellow
Lord Blue
Lady Green
Lady Red
Lord Purple
Lord Silver
Lady White

Each new moon, Caroline is given an assignment by one of the Twelve, to be completed by the next new moon before she can receive another task. Only when she has completed a task from each of the Twelve can she be initiated as a full Priestess.

The reader follows Caroline as she meets and bonds with each of the Twelve, and this is where the “course of study” part comes into play. Each deity gives her a task to complete. Lady Black, who is a goddess of truth (no matter how harsh) gives Caroline the task of painting her true self (body and soul) laid bare, nothing held back. On a lighter note, Lady Yellow’s lesson is about trust, Lord Orange’s lesson has to do with joy and freedom (and as a reminder to us polytheists that even deities like to play sometimes). My Lokean readers should take note: Lord Orange is a Trickster par excellence. The book challenges you to apply these lessons to your own life. You might also find, as I did, that certain colors will appeal to you more than others (I really bonded with Blue and Purple in particular).

Unfortunately, while I could heap praises on this book all day, I feel I should mention some things about this book that bothered me. First is the prose. I guess you could call the prose “serviceable” but oftentimes, it is kind of clunky. Granted, this book is definitely not trying to be the Great American Novel, so I suppose it can be somewhat excused for having awkward prose, it is, first and foremost, meant to be more like a fictionalized course of study. Prospective buyers should make note of this.

The other issue I had with it (and this might turn some of my readers off immediately) is that the book is kind of fluffy in parts. There is one particular moment where Lord Blue becomes epicly angry with Caroline, and the lessons definitely force the reader to confront parts of themselves that they might rather not face, but there’s a lot of, um, cotton candy, in the middle. Now, before you all run screaming because I said the “f” word, I would still recommend this book, because I think it does have some interesting things to say in spite of the prose, the cheesy dialogue, and the cotton candy.

On another note, the author was supposed to be writing eight books in the series, but so far only two are out (plus an experiential journal, which makes it easier to follow Caroline on her journey). This first book definitely stands on it’s own, however. I haven’t heard anything regarding the author or the publisher for quite some time, so for the moment, don’t worry about being committed to an (expensive) series.

In closing, I would still recommend this book, floof and all, and if you know me from Facebook, you know how much I despise love floof.

For a different perspective, here’s Lupa’s review of the same book: http://paganbookreviews.net/2011/06/22/temple-of-the-twelve-vol-1-novice-of-colors-by-esmerelda-little-flame/

Here’s a brief run-down on each of the Colors from the author: http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=&c=words&id=14098

I’m curious to see which colours you find most appealing. My personal favourites were Purple, Blue, Orange, and Green (priest/esses seem to be dedicated to no more than four colors at a time, and they don’t have to be a “balanced” god/goddess pair, either).

BTW, sorry for the lack of hyperlinks, WordPress won’t let me for some reason.

Dualism/Binaries (A Poem)

Dualism/Binaries:

Are you butch or femme?
Are you black or white?
Are you Domme or sub?
(Which side do you kneel on?)
Are you on God’s side….
…or in the Devil’s corner?
Do you like Pepsi or Coke?
Are you a man or a woman?
(These questions are important!)
Which is superior, sunrise or sunset?
(Everyone needs to fit into a box!)
We need answers!

In answer, I say:

I am neither butch nor femme.
(For some, they fit nicely, others not at all.)
I am white, but skin comes in many shades
(some dark, some light).
As for Dom or sub, that sort of play
does not appeal, and besides
it’s clear you’ve never heard of switches.
I don’t believe in God,
or the Devil
The world was designed by committee.
(It makes more sense that way, trust me.)
I prefer Coke, but won’t pass up a Pepsi
I also drink lots of water.
I am a woman, but to answer your question properly
you will have to tell me what those labels mean.
Some are both, some are neither,
and everything in between.
As for sunrise and sunset,
why not accept that they are both equally beautiful?
But I prefer the night,
when the stars form a carpet of diamonds
and the Moon shines overhead.
Your worldview is too limited,
your boxes too few,
to encompass
all this world,

Beyond Mother Goddess Monotheism, Part 2: Debunking Common Myths

I mentioned in my first post on this topic that one of my big complaints regarding the Goddess movement was the poor scholarship that is often repeated ad nauseam by authors who don’t check their sources before adding things to their books. I’m not going to start with the “Golden Age Matriarchy” theory, as I don’t really possess the background to go into that in detail (and many authors have already soundly critiqued it). Instead, I’d like to tackle a few of my favourite myths, in no particular order:

Having Children Does Not a Mother Goddess Make

There is a definite tendency in Goddess-focused traditions to assume that a) all goddesses are aspects of a single Great Mother, and/or b) to call a deity a “mother goddess” even when she really has no interest in raising children.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen and those of indeterminate sex, there are goddesses who are mothers who *gasp* don’t make their offspring the center of their lives. Some of these goddesses include Athena, Aphrodite, Freyja, and Inanna. All of these goddesses have children, but they are, at best, peripheral to their stories. In the case of Inanna, Lulal and Shara are mentioned only once in one of her most famous myths.  If you said: “Lulal and Shara who?” and you know anything about Sumerian mythology, you’ve just proved my point.

My point is that it makes no sense to call these deities “mother goddesses” on the basis that they have children. None of them seem particularly interested in childbirth or even raising their own offspring. They seem more concerned with sex, battle, love, handicrafts (in Athena’s case) and the fertility of the land (Freya) rather than human fertility.

Goddesses Like Artemis are “Women’s Goddesses”, and Should Not be Worshiped by Men

Some goddess-worshipers are under the impression that Artemis is the goddess of Amazonian womyn who eats men for breakfast if they so much as attempt to look at her, and while it is true that she does punish Actaeon for spying on her while bathing, what these goddess-worshipers seem to forget that one of Artemis’ spheres of influence was HUNTING.

Hunting was, almost without exception, a man’s activity.

The Theoi website has an excellent compilation of mentions of Artemis as goddess of the hunt, but here are a few choice excerpts:

Homer, Iliad 5. 51 ff :
“Skamandrios, the fine huntsman of beasts [was killed by Menelaus]. Artemis herself had taught him to strike down every wild thing that grows in the mountain forest. Yet Artemis of the showering arrows (iokheaira) could not now help him, no, nor the long spearcasts in which he had been pre-eminent [for hunting-skill was of no use on the battlefield].”

Philostratus the Elder, Imagines 1. 28 (trans. Fairbanks) (Greek rhetorician C3rd A.D.) :
“[From a description of a painting depicting hunters :] Hunters as they advance will hymn Artemis Agrotera (Goddess of the Hunt); for yonder is a temple to her, and a statue worn smooth with age, and heads of boars and bears; and wild animals sacred to her graze there, fawns and wolves and hares, all tame and without fear of man. After a prayer the hunters continue the hunt.”

It makes no sense for male hunters to not participate in her cult when hunting is one of her most notable spheres of influence. Perhaps her cult was female-dominated, but the cult clearly had a place for men.

Dismissal of Certain Cultures for Being “Too Patriarchal”

I’ve read a lot of books on Goddess spirituality, and one thing I noticed was that although the movement tends to look at a variety of goddesses from many cultures (which has its own set of issues) there was little material on goddesses from Northern Europe. I often found that there was an assumption that Northern European cultures (particularly the Norse) were dismissed as “too warrior-focused”, “too male-dominated”. Some of you may secretly celebrate the fact that there isn’t as much bad scholarship on Heathen deities, but I think it’s a shame because there is some very proto-feminist material in the lore and you don’t really have to look that hard to find it. Not to mention that some cultures, like Sumer, were in some ways far worse than the Norse. Let’s face it, the vast majority of cultures treated women like crap, so is there really a compelling reason to dismiss one mythology out of hand while praising another that is equally problematic?

A related issue to this is  focusing on mytho-historical matriarchal societies than actual ones. Many feminist goddess-worshipers like to associate themselves with the mythical Amazons or speculate at length over the position of women in Minoan Crete, but how many have heard of the Greek colony of Locri? Where women, though not equal to men, were believed to have a certain spiritual power (men could only access this power by marrying them) and the cults of Demeter, Persephone, and Aphrodite were strong in that area. Some current day matriarchal (more accurately matrilineal) societies are the Mosuo tribe in Yunnan Province, China (who are best known for their ‘walking marriages’) and Meghalaya, India, where a matrilineal system is so ingrained into that culture that men are now campaigning for a kind of suffrage, just take a look at this quote from the article:

‘”If you want to know how much the Khasis favour women just take a trip to the labour ward at the hospital,”‘ he says.

‘”If it’s a girl, there will be great cheers from the family outside. If it’s a boy, you will hear them mutter politely that, ‘Whatever God gives us is quite all right.'”‘

Does this scenario sound familiar? That’s because the same sentiment is echoed in delivery rooms all over the world with the genders reversed (and although I would like to see a world where everyone is equal, it *is* kind of nice to see someone doing the opposite, for once).

My point is that these cultures are actual living cultures existing today, and yet I’ve never heard of any book that touts the Golden Age Matriarchy theory even mention them. Granted, many of this books probably came out before serious research was being done on these cultures, but it just seems like the books that are out today only seek to regurgitate the same old information (and to perpetuate a myth that largely only appeals to white, middle class women).

This is kind of an aside, but this is exactly why I’m waiting for the Pistis Sophia tarot to come out, because the authors have promised to use actual academic works in their research (with references and everything) and I would like to buy it to see if they deliver on that promise. See? I’m not the only one who cares about bad scholarship!