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Birthed from Scorched Hearts
Women Respond to War
By MariJo Moore
Fulcrum PublishingCopyright © 2008 MariJo Moore
All rights reserved.
THE ENDURANCE OF WOMEN: BEFORE THE BEGINNING OF TIME AND ONWARD ...
Medusa, The Gorgon
There were not very many women available for heroine worship when I was young. I remember Clara Barton, Betsy Ross, Pocahontas, and Annie Oakley, and though Annie's sharpshooting skills were impressive, it didn't escape my notice that all these women were shadows, asides, footnotes to the story of man's great and noble exploits.
Church wasn't any more encouraging. A woman had coaxed a whining man into eating an apple and had been condemned for eternity; nothing said about his part in the feast, or even in the fact that there might be such a thing as evil and deception in the Garden of Eden. Who invented those things? Who knew? Eve's son, first murderer, was pardoned: "go, and I'll let no one harm you." And what of Lot's virgin daughters offered to an unruly crowd of men if they promised not to defile his male guest? Or Mary Magdalen? The one who was first witness to the resurrection — poof! Call her a whore and get her out of there.
It was, even to a young girl, too obvious that history, religion, all our cultural constructs were created by man and they did not particularly like it when women misbehaved, that's to say, when women acted like human beings with minds and bodies of their own. Many still don't like it. Ask any neocon.
Over time I found the heroines I searched for, women who felt the way I might, or dreamed the things I did, or thought the way I wanted to when I grew up. They were hidden in fairy tales and legends and ancient tragedies.
I began to realize that those lily-white princesses awaiting their princes were not the most interesting girls. Check out the women of power: the magic, the spells, the herbs, the sorceresses, witches, stepmothers, and ice queens. Who wrote these tales? Why were those women demonized, why were those women destroyed in order to save the princess whose only calling in life seemed to be bride of the prince? No, not even wife — bride. The story of their marriage and subsequent life together was always summarily dismissed, "they lived happily ever after," and I'd say, "Yeah, I'll bet. How long before he's back drinking with the guys, chasing dragons, and leaving her alone in the big castle? And don't even think he's going to let her continue seeing those seven dwarfs!"
Morgan le Fay, Aphrodite, Isis, Diana, Demeter, and oh, those Amazons. The wild array of goddesses in ancient legends and myths — why, even men's history began confessing: "Well, there were those Apache warrior women, and some of the women burned at the stake were guilty of only looking good. Well, maybe the figurines found at the archaeological sites could've meant something other than another damned fertility cult, and of course there were smart women, but we just can't find their writings and papers amongst our things."
Medusa became, for me, the symbol of all the women throughout history who were denied their right to be human or goddess, to be whole, to be who and what they were and are. She is fierce and tender, destructive and creative, a warrior and a peacekeeper. She is everything women were not supposed to be when I was growing up, and everything that women are. She is the hidden that is becoming known, the lie that is being revealed, the last who shall be first.
We have seen what the world has become under the guidance and governance of men, and, crazily enough, we can worry that we are destroying not only ourselves, but also an entire planet. We have also seen what the world has done to the gods who came in earthly bodies to save us; now we will see what the world can do to the sacred that takes no form, but awakens our consciousness. It should come as no surprise that the voice that does speak to that consciousness is a woman's voice. She has always been here watching us make fools of ourselves, waiting for us to act like we have some sense. And over the past couple of decades, despairing of us ever doing such a thing, she's returned. I think this time we'd better let her talk.
The stunned stones
They turned toward ugliness
and never found it.
But there was beauty
like the vivid sun
trembling with the heaviness of light.
Tall, taut she strode
like a black panther
out of the heat
of Libyan mirages.
The gods turned from her,
would not look,
but muttered lies
and myths grown bitter
Jealous gods, we are, they said,
petulant in legends
casting the first stones
as she knelt in the
sands tracing lines of lyrics
from ancient truths.
Sands of time and winds of change
men of gods and gods of men
profane the glory of beauty strong
sung deep to African rhythms
loud, delirious the joy
and holy the beauty
to stone like stares.
Oh who thought
could kill like that,
Monstrous muse of
man's worst fears.
she is hideous and
to look upon.
And let's say
the hair lashing
around that face
the color of night
is a frenzy of vipers
seething from the pores of
her dark soul.
the dreadlocks coiled thick
around that superb
taunt of her face
writhed into lives of their own
and her laughter
like heat dancing,
dervish ghosts of
Mercy is mine, she said,
and leaned deep to the
edges of time and watched
to see what on blue earth man would make
of his reverence
and what gods
he would name.
vengeance is mine, she said,
her fabulous, furious head in
the pale palm of her black hand
as horrors seeped from man's
sickening the sweetness of deception.
Vengeance, too, is mine,
the vengeance of a terrible love,
the only love they will not destroy.
And thunders bellowed
like war's merciless clamor
from age to age
and hot light shredded the dark musings of
the brightest of men
and rain fell soft
down the Danube
up the Amazon
across the sea Atlantic
and soft over the lands
waters, sky and seas that hold
secret the forgotten
names of she who will not be forgotten.
and all men and women we
like ancient worshippers
the breadth of history
long ages of lies, slanders and myths
grown quiet with rage
and god remains where she began
inside the world's
strongly like African rhythms
sung deep to
the glory of beauty strong.
The Daughters of Boudicca
H. Byron Ballard
"Let us show them that they are hares and foxes trying to rule over dogs and wolves." — Boudicca's speech to her assembled troops, 60 ce.
One Roman historian described Boudicca of the Celtic tribe Eceni as six feet tall, with flaming red hair to her hips. Standing before her statue near the Thames in London, I get a feel for the unquenchable spirit of the warrior-queen. As a feminist and a mother, I have great empathy for her story. Her husband ruled the Eceni in Britain in the early decades of the Common Era, when the Roman Empire was strengthening its hold in Western Europe. The Eceni was a client-kingdom of the Empire, and upon the king's death, the Roman governor moved in to disarm the tribe and claim the ancestral lands. He didn't reckon with a woman who had been raised since childhood to rule her tribe, with or without her husband. He didn't reckon with Boudicca.
Bailígí timpeall orm anois agus go neosfaidh mé scéal daoibh. Is fada dhom ag cuimhneamh ar é a insint daoibh ach níor fhéadas é go dtí so.
Now I'll tell you a story — come gather around! I've long wanted to tell you this but haven't been able to till now.
I am sitting in an auditorium with a large group of well-meaning and mostly white people who smell nice and have warm coats. We are singing about and talking about and dancing about peace. I do this a lot. These groups of gentle people wish desperately that the world were a better place and have a vague notion of peace as the answer to all the world's ills. Some think you can't have peace without justice, some quote King and Gandhi, and some believe that "we" are the ones we've been waiting for. I will see this group of people again in January of 2007, when we all participate in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Peace March in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, which will culminate in prayers to gods I don't honor and boring speeches that are difficult to hear outdoors.
The dragon's teeth we've sown in the land between the beautiful Tigris and the mighty Euphrates continue to bear dark fruits, and my email inbox sees a new invitation at least weekly to protest in the town square. An overdue drink with a friend can only be scheduled after she's finished standing silently in black, round and silent as an old Greek widow. "Peace," we mutter. "Peace at all costs. War is waste, madness, and folly. Bad, dark, dangerous."
But if war is bad, why do we love it so? We spend our treasure of children and gold on uniforms and weaponry, and we walk in fear of the enemy, the shadow, the other. We create the jihadist as a golem and cannot see his face or know his heart. The screens of our entertainment are filled with beautiful men and powerful women, armies of one, all they can be, held in reserve for regional emergency and national folly.
Nach bhfeiceann tú os do chomhair é?
Can't you see it there — in front of you?
A friend wished me joy and peace for the New Year. I replied that I'd take the joy but am unsure what is meant by "peace." Is it only the absence of war or is it the place where we can grow our crops and raise our young without fear? I live a peaceful life, barring the occasional return of my harsh temper. But I yearn toward the honor and glory of the warrior model that is so clearly expressed in our Western culture. Blood, gore, flashing steel, flame-tipped arrows. Armored horses, armored warriors. How can we make peace more glorious and honor-filled than war?
Some people think that in our long-ago past there were cultures of people who lived in rich areas that supplied all their Maslovian needs. These ancestors created art and left artifacts, and I like to think they spent their time drinking wine and making love and growing perfect vegetables. Did they get bored with plenty? Did they grow tired of all those whole men hanging around with nothing to do but create art, whether in stucco or in the bedroom? Did they yearn for battle scars and jolts of adrenaline? Did they pine for a fight worth fighting and someone to declare their enemy?
The enemies came finally, spreading across the fertile plains from the windy steppes, burying their glorious dead in high-piled kurgans, filled with gold and slaughtered horses.
An cumin leatsa é?
Do you remember it?
I return to my ancestral lands, to the town that I called home for a brief and giddy time. I stand beside the slow-flowing old Thames with Big Ben at my back and the reconstructed Globe Theatre on my right. I stand before the majesty of a warrior-queen and seem to remember a time when women were wilder than we are now, more disciplined, more terrifying. When women held the reins of a war chariot with the grip that now steers a stroller or a buggy full of food we haven't grown.
After a night of heavy beer and heavier food, my hair smells of smoke and my dreams are filled with flight. I take three steps, each one higher than the one before, and suddenly my body is aloft, floating for a time until I remember how to fly. I bend at the waist and my arms do the breaststroke, my legs undulating behind me. I go higher, past the electric lines and the t-shapes of power poles. Careful! I see the plains below me, and a river, and I follow the course of the water, deep into the countryside. There are mounds here, too, and standing stones waiting for the midwinter sun. Gunpowder dragons fire the night and I wake in the morning with aching shoulders, as though my flight was a shaman's work and not a dream at all.
An ghaoth aniar, bíonn sí fial.
The west wind is generous.
And so I return to the Thames and the statue of Boudicca, queen and war chief of the dead Eceni. For an Iron Age queen, she looks peculiarly Victorian, almost pre-Raphaelite — the period when Victoria's Albert commissioned this statue. She is graceful in her strength, like a good dancer gone to seed. The daughters whose names I never knew or can't remember crouch at her feet, unwilling participants in their mother's war for their sakes. The smell from the funky old river drifts past me, with some dust and loose pages of the Times. I read the inscription on the stone platform that holds the chariot and its occupants: "Regions Caesar never knew/Thy posterity shall sway." At the base of the statue, amongst the pigeon droppings, people have left offerings: some wilted flowers, a few coins, and a silver ring.
Is cumin liom.
Her name has changed since I was a girl, when we called her Boadicea. "The person who was thought worthy to be their leader and who directed the conduct of the entire war, was Boudicca, a Briton woman of the royal family and possessed of greater intelligence than often belongs to women. This woman assembled her army, to the number of some 120,000, and then ascended a tribunal, which had been constructed of earth in the Roman fashion. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire. She now grasped a spear to aid her in terrifying all beholders, and spoke."
That's how she is in this statue, and when I lived near Victoria Station, I often walked the length of Victoria Road, past Westminster's cathedral and abbey, and marveled at the lack of practicality. Why were there no reins on the horses? Why did she have no armor — not even leather slabs with fiddly bits of embedded metal? I had seen the metalwork of her tribe in the British Museum and knew how adept they were with hammer and tongs. Was she wrapped in the ferocity of her rage, impervious to the spears of the piddling Romans? Her dress and those of her crouching daughters reveal every curve as if the chariot had risen from the depths of the river. The folds of bronze emphasize the woman-ness of the warrior, her perky breasts and massive thighs. I own those thighs, too, another legacy of home. Through a line of pigeons, I squint to see her face, to find a drop of personality, a stir of memory. But her face is impassive, aloof. She cannot smell the blood or the sweetish death smell. She does not hear the Morrigan and her ravens as they circle the fields of filth, of mud and piss and scraped flesh. Look at her, arms raised like a priestess, holding a spear, her pelvis arched forward.
Is beannaithe thú idir mhná.
Blessed art thou amongst women.
She had fallen into obscurity and is not mentioned by Bede the Venerable or Geoffrey of Monmouth or any of the mediaevalists. She is not part of the Arthur legend cycle, which embraces so much of the folk history of Britain, churning farm lore into glory. When she was rediscovered in the Renaissance through the translated writings of Tacitus and Cassius Dio (who lived and wrote long after she fell), she became the subject of plays and poems, and there is a mention of her in Holinshed's Chronicles. During the reign of Queen Victoria, this woman who had given her life to free her people from the tyranny of an expanding empire became the poster child for a new Rome. Victoria was called her namesake because the name "Boudicca" means victory.
After the massacre of the Druids at Ynys Mona at the end of the world in Wales, where rebellion and stubbornness were answered with genocide, the Romans should have watched their backs. Maybe they were too far away from the heat of home. Perhaps they felt they were superior to the matted wool and blue faces of the tribal people. But they made a series of mistakes, as we all do. Mistakes of pride and circumstance, when we stand on what is right, instead of thinking about what is best.
Excerpted from Birthed from Scorched Hearts by MariJo Moore. Copyright © 2008 MariJo Moore. Excerpted by permission of Fulcrum Publishing.
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