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Tag: Women Rising

Our Lady of the Dark Country

Our Lady of the Dark Country

What follows is the full introduction to a brand new book of mine called Our Lady of the Dark Country, a collection of my short stories, poems and a novella about powerful women, about the deep feminine, about Earth’s magic. I am deeply happy to set it before you in this slow, dark, nourishing root of the year like an egg set in a quiet pool, for you to take in deep as starlight in this winter season. Something is shifting deep below the surface of things; the ancient ways of snake and woman are rising. This is a women-made book. My friend and the amazing designer at Heyday, Ashley Ingram, laid the book out for me as a freelance project. The artwork of Catherine Sieck and Nomi McLeod is featured within. And the cover painting is by none other than Rima Staines, a wild madonna-sibyl that she painted for our collaboration on the latest Dark Mountain volume.
This book is an opening and a rooting. May it serve you well.
*For US orders– buy a copy here, or at any online bookseller, or request through your local shop! *
 
*For UK orders– buy a copy from the Hedgespoken shop here! *

Introduction to Our Lady of the Dark Country

Women of America, of Europe,
women of my blood and mothers of my ancestors, women of all the lands of this
Earth: the words in this book are needles. Thread them where they need to go:
through your body, through your life, into the ground as roots. They have come
from a true place in me, from the place where forgotten stories have been
buried, and I give them to you in these pages gladly.
We have come to an epistemic
crossroads, a crisis of the “real.” I will not be able to win an argument with
an archaeologist, an academic, a business man, or possibly even an old friend,
by trying to state facts about the indigenous feminine traditions of Europe,
about the Neolithic, about the work of Marija Gimbutas, about war, about peace,
about menstruation, about sexuality, about freedom, about truth, about the
heart, about the reality of magic, because facts have become a slippery thing
and it seems that these days what matters is who fears what, and who gains
what, and not What Is True. A fact is not What Is True. A fact is only an arrow
that points toward who has the power and what story they want to tell.
A dozen times a week,
sometimes a day, I want to write angry essays, immaculate in articulation and
bombproof in argument, essays that are swords, cutting through two thousand
years of tyrannical, imperialistic, misogynistic, life-denying narratives—the
ones that are presently calling climate change a “pagan” notion, the ones that
allow big oil and big gun lobbies to persist even in the face of the deadliest
public mass shootings in history and a planet on the brink of devastating environmental
chaos, the ones that enable the exploitation of just about everything and
everybody remotely exploitable and objectifiable—but if I write angry essays
like I am beginning to do here I will be dismissed by many as an angry
feminist. Hysterical. It’s just her womb talking.
Well, actually, it is, and
I’m proud to say it. I’m bleeding today. My womb is shedding like a snake. It
is windy outside and just started to rain, loud and sweet on the roof. It is
dusk. There’s a cake of quince, saffron and almond flour baking in the oven,
and wood pigeons roosting in the bay trees, and I am indeed an angry woman
writing but it is time, women of my blood, women of America, women of this Earth,
that we were not ashamed. That we no longer believed anybody who told us our
bodies and the wisdom of our bodies was not true. It is time we were proud and not
embarrassed to say “I am bleeding today.” It used to be that a woman bleeding
was sought for what she knew, for what she thought, because she was closest to
something bigger. A moon, a tide. It is time we started at the very
snake-center of our bodies and saw again the birthright of our strength, our
power, and of a knowing that is older and vaster by far than the
life-destroying cultural story we are currently living in.
You don’t have to know all
the details about what happened, and who did what, and why—the series of Bronze
Age invasions from the Russian steppe, the rise of the Roman Empire and a
fanatical Christian state, the Inquisition and witch burning times, the colonization
of the “New World” and onward—and how all of it is still embedded in the
legacies we enact today, to feel what is beneath, in the dark country of our
bodies, out of sight. All you have to do is begin at the center of yourself and
listen. Earth’s language and the language of the living world will speak
directly to you there, and tell you What Is True, from that wellspring which
has long been associated with the womb (if you have a female body), and the
center of yourself and your lifeforce (if you have a male body).
I want to pause here and
make it clear that this book, though deeply feminine, is not only for women but
for men too, and everyone between, around, above, below and sideways from those
gender designations. I want to make sure you know I am not disparaging the male
gender here as such, but only an aggressive manifestation of it—called patriarchy.
There is little good in hate, and especially something so silly as the hate of
an entire gender. Over-simplification, as my good husband often says, is rarely
useful. And I have been blessed in my life with strong, caring examples of
masculinity. I am married to a wonderful, respectful man. I was raised by a
wonderful father, with a wonderful brother, kind and protective uncles, two
loving grandfathers, and am now blessed to have a generous and good-hearted
father-in-law and two brothers-in-law I am proud to call my family. Some of my
most cherished teachers have been men, and some of my loveliest friends.
The violent objectification
inherent in extreme patriarchy affects men as much as it does women.
Differently, but terribly too. As I heard Lyla June Johnston (the Diné and Tsétsêhéstâhese
poet, musician and activist) say in an interview last spring, the witch hunts
damaged the men of Europe as much as the women. The witch hunts broke them too,
for there is no faster way to destroy a man’s spirit (besides enslaving him or
sending him to the trenches of a senseless war) than to take away and kill the
women he loves—mother, wife, daughter, sister—and leave him with the horrific
belief that it was his fault, that he didn’t do enough, that he could have done
more. That he failed them. So while this book may appeal more to those who
identify as “women,” it is not only for women. I write these words for all, in
celebration of what the feminine might look like untrammeled and in balance
with the masculine—in the past, in the present, and in the future.
I believe we are walking
around with the witch trials still burning in our blood, and it is time to turn
and look. There are lies still branded in our culture and the story of what it
means to be a woman in the West, put there by the ancestral memory of breast
ripper and hot rod and iron maiden and shackle and pyre, put there by forced
marriage and forced silence, corset and shame. No manner of rhetoric would save
you if the men of the Inquisition wanted you dead, even when you confessed to a
mythology made entirely by them. Satan and the Devil do not belong to witches
or to women, but to the life-denying story that says: to be born of a woman’s
body is to be soiled. This is our original sin, they say. You must spend your
whole life atoning, paving your path to elsewhere, away from Earth. To be a
woman who practiced the old indigenous ways of Europe, who knew her power and
the power of earthfast stone and holy spring, bird and knot and hare and womb,
a woman who was a priest in her own right, a doctor, a seer—this was to be a
direct threat to male Christian power. Some women were carried to “trial” in
baskets, so their feet wouldn’t touch the ground, because the men feared that
they would get power from the Earth that way.
But the worst part of it all
is that the Inquisition worked so well it not only killed hundreds of thousands
of women, but actually erased the truth of the witch and her (or his)
indigenous roots from the old land of Europe. Erased them right out of the
field of history. It is only very recently that this narrative is being
amended. The story of the witch replaced the reality of the witch and we are
left in its ashes still, alternately scoffing at the notion that a witch was
ever a real person, or caricaturing her as a terrible old woman with warts who
deserved to be killed by a young hero because she put babies in her oven and
ate them.
Imagine if we spoke of the
Holocaust with a snicker—“well, I mean, Jewish people weren’t real, it was just a mistaken hysteria, and that’s over now, don’t
be silly.” And then we dressed up like them for Halloween to scare each other,
and to laugh. Don’t be fantastical,
witches were never real anyway, and if you want to talk about it, about women’s
oldest knowing and a time when we were not objects under the hands of more
powerful men, well, that’s some weird goddess shit, go ahead, suit yourself,
but
you will immediately be written off and shoved into a women’s studies department
or the occult shelf. Meanwhile the rest will go on calling the real thing
History and not men’s studies, starting with the earliest so-called “real” civilization,
Mesopotamia, and the old Epic of Gilgamesh in which a man clearcuts a forest
and builds a city, or the Enuma Elish, in which the newer gods kill the older
gods, including the dragon-creatrix Tiamat, using her body to make the world. This is how you do it, this is how you build
a civilization, see?
they tell us. But if you read between the lines and
into the more marginalized texts (the ones called “Women’s Studies,” for
example) you might begin to suspect that to be built upon the carcass of dragon
might be a metaphor for the overhaul of an older mythology by a violent,
patriarchal one—the conquest of a peaceable, fecund, matrilineal agrarian
culture that had been flourishing for the previous five thousand years or so
without trouble or resource depletion.
Don’t get me wrong. I spend
a lot of time in the bookstore in the Women’s Studies section. I make a beeline
straight for the mythology shelf and the science fiction and fantasy wing. Deeply
intelligent, important things are being written and published and placed in
these sections, and I feel most at home among them. Here be dragons. But I think there’s something inherently troubling
about the way this genrefication of both fiction and historical studies creates
a hierarchy that looks a whole lot like the hierarchies of the Roman Empire,
the Christian state, the US government, the workplace, and in many cases the
home, whatever we say about feminism.
The eminent Lithuanian archaeologist
Marija Gimbutas provides a fascinating, and to me very frustrating, case study.
After enjoying great esteem among her male colleagues for many years of work on
Bronze Age Proto-Indo-European culture in the 1950’s and 60’s, she began to
point out that there were an awful lot of female-shaped figurines in the
ancient substratum of sites across southern, eastern, and central Europe long
before said Indo-Europeans arrived. She went on to suggest, based on decades of
study not only of ancient Neolithic cultures but also the folklore of eastern
Europe, that they might have had religious value, possibly as representatives
of goddesses in a matrilineal clan culture. She noticed what she thought were
many small temples and a remarkable lack of weaponry or ornate burial mounds
with kings in them, having dug most of the sites herself and read the reports
for the rest in one of the eleven languages she was fluent in and her male
colleagues were not. As if this wasn’t apparently bad enough (using the word
“goddess” and “matriarchy” seems to immediately make the academic community uncomfortable)
women who weren’t academics got excited about her work in the 1970’s because
they felt she was uncovering at last a feminine heritage that was empowering, a
new narrative that honored women’s bodies, women’s ways, and returned to them a
millennia-long tradition of goddess worship across the ancient western world.
As far as many of Gimbutas’
colleagues were concerned, this was the equivalent of digging her own scholarly
grave and burying her academic reputation alive, although her work was no less
thorough, thoughtful, or well-researched than before. But she had begun to
adopt a more interdisciplinary approach, weaving in her knowledge of folklore
and linguistics to interpret the figurines she was uncovering, and probably a
bit of imagination and intuition too. A more feminine way, maybe, but still founded
upon thirty years of study and thought.
I’d be curious to know if
the reaction would have been the same had she noted a remarkable number of male
figurines, and suggested the worship of predominantly male gods. I have little
doubt that there would have been no academic outcry. But a goddess is a very
different thing than a god. Today, her work is much beloved among feminists and
goddess followers, but generally dismissed by the academic community, and while
we can laugh it off as a big loss to them, I think it’s actually quite
chilling. An essay by a man who’d clearly not read all of Gimbutas’ work and
certainly hadn’t thought very much about it is the only one included in the best
contemporary volume on Old European culture. In his piece he dismisses all of Gimbutas’
conclusions with a writerly sneer and says not much of anything else besides
that they might have been sex objects, pornographic in some way, maybe dolls or
maybe just female bodies but, come on
people
—you can feel his sarcasm between the lines—let’s not be ridiculous here, let’s not be fanciful, sacred? Religious?
Wide-hipped female figurines with possible snake heads, how could they be
sacred or religiously important in any significant way? Let’s not get worked up
about this, that’s just what the women want them to be and they can’t be right
because, well—
And here we come at last to
the terrible crux of the problem, and my diatribe. They cannot be goddesses
with central significance to the cultures they were found buried within
because—because—
It’s subconscious at this
point, deeply so. You can see the trend. Why should we be so outrageously
embarrassed when a woman suggests matrilineal goddess-worship that we won’t even
consider it a real possibility?
Because it upsets the entire
narrative of academia, of “progress,” of what we think we mean when we say
“civilization.”
Because it takes us straight
back to the woman beneath the apple tree speaking to the snake in the garden. Whatever
she knew, whatever the snake was telling her, they’ve been trying to silence
for at least the last two thousand years. And we’ve been trying to silence her
in ourselves.
But I think something is
changing now. I see it in the news, and it I feel it in the air, and in the
center of myself, and in the ground.
Women and men of heart,
Earth’s snakes are speaking. It is time we listen for the truth they tell us
through the centers of ourselves. Women and men of heart, we make a spiral
around this planet. It is time to tell the old stories that have damaged us
differently. To go beneath what we’ve been told and into the dark country, into
the Earth, where the other side of those stories is hidden, the truth that was
carried all along in the roots of the trees despite thousands of years of war.
In this book I offer stories
of that place, from the dark country that was never truly conquered or
secondary, no matter what they told us. The place that was always the
beginning, the center, the root. The place the snakes and dragons went when
they had been called monster, and evil, and finally just a fantasy, one too
many times.
The rain is falling harder
now. The bishop pines roar with wind. Soon the owls will be calling. The house
smells of quince and almond cake.
Come in. There are doorways,
very near, that the dragons will walk through if we listen, and thread, and
have the courage to stand up in our bodies and call them home.

SYLVIA V. LINSTEADT

The Bishop Pinewood

Inverness, California

November 2017

 

 

 

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