on hell, demonology, and language

In college, I found there were scholars who took demons and demonology seriously. This was all much more to my liking even though these scholars left out all of the flash and glamour and the spitting of pea soup utilized by Hollywood. Scholars tend to focus on texts, and that was essentially what I was after--textual expositions on demonology.

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the divine feminine in Miserere

I had some very negative personal opinions about Christianity prior to conducting my research for Miserere. During my youth, I never heard about spirituality from the female perspective other than through the virgin/whore paradigm. My viewpoints on Christianity came mainly from my own bad experiences, the nightly news, and a smug superiority that I was right and everyone else was wrong. In those days, the subtle shades of gray had not fallen over my eyes, and I saw the world only in black and white.

It never occurred to me to study Christianity from a historical angle. When I did--many, many years later--I found quite a few interesting facts. It turns out that prior to being expunged by the Deuteronomic laws, Elohim/Yahweh had a consort named Asherah. She reigned beside Yahweh in the Jerusalem temple for over half the years it stood.* 

As I moved from the history of Judaism to the history of early Christianity, I stumbled across an edition of Frontline, From Jesus to Christ, where Elaine Pagels talked about a poem found at Nag Hammadi entitled The Thunder, Perfect Mind.** What got my full attention was that this poem exalted the power of the divine feminine.

Pagels believes that whoever wrote the poem knew the traditions of Isis and the traditions of the Jews. The poem itself is composed to salute the divine feminine in all her forms.

While writing Miserere, I often referred to The Thunder, Perfect Mind for Rachael's scenes. I wanted to convey the strength of the goddess through her attitudes, experiences, and actions. Modern Christianity tends to divide the feminine between the images of the virgin (Mary, mother of Jesus) and Mary the Magdalene (who was a prophet, not a prostitute, but that's another post for another day). All of the very important parts of being a woman are omitted from this narrow theology.

The Thunder, Perfect Mind is a piece of Gnostic literature that encompasses the whole woman and projects a feminine that is both mysterious and wonderfully accessible. We don't know the name of the divine revealer who wrote this poem. She could be any woman within whom the goddess resided. Whoever she was, she was no white goddess standing serene and aloof. This is the crone speaking from all her experience, all her passion, all her multiple experiences. These are the words of a goddess in her totality. She has lived in the fullness of life and she exemplifies the Great I-am.

The opening lines demand the reader's attention with the command: "Look upon me, you who reflect upon me, / and you hearers, hear me." Then the poem reflects upon the female experience through contradictions:

For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am <the mother> and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband
and he is my offspring.

She embodies the spiritual and the after-life:

I am the knowledge of my inquiry,
and the finding of those who seek after me,
and the command of those who ask of me,
and the power of the powers in my knowledge
of the angels, who have been sent at my word,
and of gods in their seasons by my counsel,
and of spirits of every man who exists with me,
and of women who dwell within me.
For I am the one who alone exists,
and I have no one who will judge me.
For many are the pleasant forms which exist in numerous sins,
and incontinencies,
and disgraceful passions,
and fleeting pleasures,
which (men) embrace until they become sober
and go up to their resting place.
And they will find me there,
and they will live,
and they will not die again.

Each time I sat down to write Rachael's character in Miserere, I would hear her say:

I, I am godless,
and I am the one whose God is great.

Given the chance, Rachael would open rip heaven's doors and demand that God account himself to her.

She is godless, but she believes her god is great.

She is coming ...



*I'll refer you to the link embedded in the quote, which comes from a post by Dr. Robert M. Price, who condenses a great deal of information in a very brief blog post.

**The actual poem is very long. I've only used excerpts in this post. The original was taken from: James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library, revised edition. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990 and quoted in full on the PBS web site.

The Castilian Military

Research is always my favorite part of writing. I thought I'd share some interesting things I've learned about armies and caballeros on the Iberian Peninsula during the fourteenth century. This information came from the article "Castilian Military Reform under the Reign of Alfonso XI (1312-50)" by Nicolas Agrait.

The ranks:

  • Gentes de pie (or peones) were the infantry. The peones were armed with shortened lances or spears, which were used as either missiles or to hold a defensive position by planting the butt of the spear in the ground. The peones wore a loriga (mail shirt) or light leather armor and supplemented their armor with whatever they could afford (helms, shields, etc.). The peones also wielded guisarmes. Guisarmes were "a type of pole with a long curved blade edged on the concave side with a slender spear point opposite, used to either spear opponents, to hook and forcibly dismount knights, or to sever the sinews in horses' legs."
  • Ballesteros. The ballesteros were specialists in the use of the crossbow. The bolts were narrow and designed to penetrate armor. The effective range of the 14th century crossbow was approximately 100 meters. The English longbow never gained a lot of popularity in Castile.
  • The calvary or caballeros. There were two distinctive types of cavalry: 1) the men who rode a la brida and 2) those who rode a la jineta.
    • Caballeros who rode a la brida used heavy plate armor for rider and horse. Their armor consisted of mail lorigas or hauberks reinforced with metal plates. They used straight stirrups and a high saddle.
    • Caballeros who rode a la jineta were heavily influenced by Muslim equestrian practices. These men prized speed and agility over power and protective armor. They wore only a light hauberk without plates and were armed with shorter lances and lighter swords.

More random facts:

  • The adalid. The adalid was not only an expert caballero who had adapted to riding a la jineta. Adalid also referred to specialized military officials, who were considered very valuable due to their expert knowledge of the terrain and their ability to lead their men.
  • The institution of the caballería popular. If townsmen within certain incomes chose to keep a horse and armor, they were obligated to maintain their weaponry and serve when called. In return for this service, these men were given tax exempt status for themselves and their families for so long as the mount and equipment were maintained.
  • In Castile, Alfonso XI in his Ordenamiento de León mandated that vassals were to spend their royal disbursements (known as soldadas) for the recruitment of caballeros and infantry. For every 1,100 maravedíes (roughly 55 florins), the vassal had to recruit one caballero, one lancer or spearman, and one crossbowman.

Agrait, Nicolas, "Castilian Military Reform under the Reign of Alfonso XI (1312-50)," The Journal of Medieval Military History 3 (2005): 88-126.

That concludes today's history lesson. Carry on.

bad weekends make good workweeks, Oscar Wilde, and fairy tales

In the process of looking stuff up today, I came across a book called The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. I'd not heard of his fairy tales, so I investigated and found this site "On the Loom of Sorrow": Eros and Logos in Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales by Clifton Snider. If you're interested in Wilde's works, this is a great anaylsis (thank you California State University Long Beach and Clifton Snider).

heaven, hell, and research in MISERERE

Today I'm hanging out with John over at Dreaming in Books. I loved John's question, because he asked me about one of my favorite topics: research.

I did a lot of research regarding heaven and hell while I wrote MISERERE. Of course, I’ve been fascinated with hell ever since I was a child. I was raised as a Southern Baptist, and when I was young, I thought heaven sounded a bit dull. Hell, on the other hand, seemed like a really happening place.

Believe it or not, hell is mentioned very rarely in the Bible, so I turned to the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha for my angelology and demonology. When early Jews and Christians were compiling the libraries for their religious treatises ... [READ MORE]

And don't forget! You've got three different places where you can put your name (or flash fiction) in the hat to win a copy of MISERERE:
  1. At Brenda Drake's blog where you can win a copy of MISERERE by commenting;
  2. At the Night-Bazaar this week, you can comment for a chance to win; and
  3. RIGHT HERE, where your super writing skills can win all kinds of cool prizes including a query critique or a 25 or 50 page critique from my rock-star agent Weronika Janczuk!

sources on exorcism and demons

I've just compiled a nice bibliography for my agent on exorcism. Just in case you're interested, here are a few books that I consulted (and enjoyed reading) while I worked on Rachael's possession and subsequent exorcism. I'm not going to talk a lot about it here, because of some upcoming blog interviews, but maybe later.

If you're interested, that is.

Here are a few of the books I used:

Armando Maggi, Satan’s Rhetoric: A Study of Renaissance Demonology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Charles Stewart, Demons and the Devil: Moral Imagination in Modern Greek Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

Graham H. Twelftree, In the Name of Jesus: Exorcism Among Early Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007).

Graham H. Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker: A Historical and Theological Study (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments (New York: Doubleday, 1983).

James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (New York: Doubleday, 1983).

Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977).

William Whiston, trans., The Works of Josephus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1987).