Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Marion Zimmer Bradley is Dead

Marion Zimmer Bradley is dead. She cannot defend herself nor answer for her actions. This makes her a pretty easy target. I'm not going to dispute the allegations, in fact, I'm going to go over pieces from some of her books that may have pointed to this fact. I've never read the Darkover series, by the time I became a fan of her writing, the length of that series was daunting and I quite frankly prefer fantasy over science fiction. There are two fantasy series of hers that I want to go over, the Avalon Saga (which is still on-going as of 2009, thanks to the efforts of Diana L. Paxson) and her Light series.

I think these two series have the most appeal to the modern Pagan community, with Mists of Avalon being one of the most influential pieces of fiction (it is often touted as “my gateway to Paganism”).

Why is Mists of Avalon so popular? Well, it was released during the radical feminist movement of the early 1980s- a feminine perspective on the Arthurian Legends would, of course, sell well at that time. In addition, feminism was already well-entrenched within the American Pagan movement thanks to the influence of activists such as Starhawk and Z. Budapest. That Mists of Avalon, which showed a fictional Britain after the fall of Rome, became popular with its focus on the female characters of the story is really no surprise, especially considering its blatant demonization of patriarchal Christianity that occurs within the book.

My first Marion Zimmer Bradley book was not Mists of Avalon, however, it was the second book within the Light series: Witchlight. I was already in my earliest dabblings with Witchcraft when my cousin gave me this book (she saw the dust jacket with the witchy title and the woman wandering the woods in a hippie dress and thought of me... I wonder why?). Having read most of the Light series and almost all of Marion Zimmer Bradley's contributions to the Avalon Saga, I do notice themes of distant or abusive parents (or abuse from those in a parental role), rape and if not straight-up incest, at least incestuous desires.

Much of that is par for the course of the parts of Mists of Avalon that come straight from the Arthurian legends. You can't tell Arthur's story from any perspective without themes of incest becoming involved. However, the book takes it a bit far and adds things that were not part of the original legends. The fact that royal parents are distant is a fact one cannot even deny to this day; affairs of state have to come first for the good of the country and its people. However, when Morgaine was very small, Igraine took a very active role in raising her. This only changed when Uther came into the picture and made Igraine his High Queen. So busy was Igraine with her queenly duties that she often foisted care of the infant Arthur on to her young daughter (who could not have been older than seven at the time). So, not only does Morgaine lose her father (abusive misogynist and would-be wife rapist that he was), she also loses her mother to the crown and her own childhood by having to help raise her brother. Arthur's memory of who he thought his mother was from his toddler age (he was fostered early, starting at age four rather than the usual age of seven) ends up being a confused memory of Morgaine herself (he remembers his mother having long dark hair, but Igraine's hair is red); so his incestuous acts and later desire for his sister can also be seen as Oedipal in context (and the confusing sister for mother is Bradley's own and not part of the original myth).

Another scene clearly shows a young Mordred eying his foster-mother Morgawse with obvious lust (she is also his great aunt, being the sister to Igraine). He was prepubescent at the time and Morgawse, who had changed her clothing in front of him before, had not thought about it until she saw how he was looking at her and decided that more privacy would be in order for the future. Again, this idea is Bradley's own.

And again, we have Gwenhwyfar's supposed half-brother (she claims her father always denied his lineage) raping her to try to legitimize his claim to her father's lands.

When Morgaine confronts Viviane for making her have sex with her own half-brother, Viviane says such things used to be common and there is no shame it it. Morgaine's own subject of lust is Lancelot, who happens to be Viviane's (who is Igraine and Morgawse's eldest sister) youngest son, so he is her first cousin. Couple that with the motherly role Viviane has in Morgaine's life as both mentor and foster-mother, and her desire is only that much more incestuous. And again, all of this is Bradley's creation, her choice in story-telling, and has nothing to do with the legends.

In one of the prequels to Mists of Avalon, (most likely Lady of Avalon, but I read it about a decade ago, having borrowed it from a library, and can only go by what Wikipedia tells me of the characters in the book to know it's the one I remember this bit from) we follow the rise of Viviane. Viviane's mother, as High Priestess, is very distant and sometimes unnecessarily cruel to her daughter, whom she is preparing to take her place (of course, she doesn't bother to tell Viviane that that is why she is being so hard on her until her mother dies giving birth to Morgawse). Now, officially, Viviane was a child of Beltane, meaning that no man could lay claim to be her father. Viviane suspects its the highest druid, but as he does not remember the ritual coupling due to ecstatic/trance circumstances, he cannot claim or deny it. By ritual, the highest druid must be the one to consecrate the new High Priestess. Viviane reminds the high druid that he is, in all likelihood, her father and the act would be incestuous. The man decides to call down the power of Talesien (and in a sense, becomes Talesien's vessel forever, as he takes up the role of The Merlin) and as Talesien, he performs the five-fold kiss. Now, his body didn't change physically, just spiritually, so it can still be seen as incest.

Then there is the Light series, a series that truly shows Bradley had access to occult knowledge or else did extremely good research on the subject to gain more than a rudimentary understanding. The first book follows Truth, the daughter of Thorne Blackburn (a man who is blatantly modeled on Crowley, Gardner and just a smidgeon of Cochran thrown in for dramatic flair) as she seeks to learn about him and expose his dubious nature. When she gets to the house where most of her father's rituals took place, Truth finds a group of her father's acolytes (both old and new) seeking to recreate his ritual cycle (in case the Cochran clue didn't hit home, the final ritual did not go as planned back when originally performed; Truth's mother died of a drug overdose and her father disappeared). Their leader is a charismatic young man only a few years older than Truth herself. He seems interested in dating Truth, and as he doesn't seem to be unreasonable to her as he claims to be more interested in the theory behind Thorne Blackburn's rituals than expecting them to work “as advertized”, she accepts. The leader's image he's projecting turns out to be false, though, and he eventually tries to force himself on Truth as part of the ritual (which is thankfully stopped by another member who was just there investigating this guy and wasn't a true follower of Thorne's at all). It turns out that this man is Truth's older half-brother, Pilgrim(they were both born in the '60s and Thorne's group was very much a product of the “free love” of the time. Truth also has a younger half-sister). So, again, we see the theme of abuse and ritual incest.

In Witchlight, Winter is a NY stockbroker suffering from what she thinks is burnout. However, she begins to realize that she has very few memories from before her institutionalization and even fewer from before her mid-twenties. In an effort to regain her memories, she travels to her old college, which also happens to house the institute of psychical research Truth works for. Winter is also being plagued by a poltergeist, which she learns from Truth is her own telekinetic abilities working subconsciously, however there also seems to be an entity trying to talk to her through the bodies of mutilated animals. Truth (her eyes having been opened to the reality of magic in the previous book) helps to uncover what the entity is and it is an artificial elemental. Winter then scrambles to find out what it wants and why it keeps attacking bigger and bigger animals. What she finds out is that her college boyfriend was a magician practicing the method of Blackburn; she, and a few other friends, were involved in the group he ran. Just before graduation, Winter finds herself pregnant and as her boyfriend's idea of taking care of the baby is to get married and go on the road from state to state to work at Renaissance Faires, she freaks out and leaves school for the solace of home. The problem is, home is not a good place for Winter. Her parents are cold, distant and at the very least mentally abusive. Her mother convinces her to get an abortion and even takes her out of the country to get it done so that if her boyfriend tries to visit and convince her to keep the baby, he will not find her there. Winter's coping mechanism is to block all of it out until the breakdown in her mid-thirties that leads to her institutionalization. Most of the book is spent with Winter trying to piece her life together and she eventually confronts her parents for being the terrible pieces of crap that they were. I have not read Gravelight, the third book in the series, but as it follows Winter's brother, I have to assume the parental influence is the same. Heartlight, the final book seems to deviate from the trend, but probably only because the main character is a man who never forms a romantic attachment, but acts as a fatherly guide to several people through the years.

So, I am saddened that this excellent writer (you cannot deny that she wrote well) was a monster; but on closer inspection of the themes within her writing (which do make for great character development and story telling and feel believable given the eras in which the stories take place) I can't say I'm as shocked as my fellow Pagans.

I would say to vilify her and never buy her books, if her books were meant to be used as spiritual guidelines, but they're not, they're fiction. I know a great number of Pagans follow what I tend to call “Mists of Avalonism” (I've even seen whole groups that based their practices around this) and have built their spiritual practice based on the religious system created for the novel. The problem is, it's a novel. It was never intended for use as a spiritual guidebook. If you call yourself Pagan and based all of your beliefs and practices solely upon what you got out of the Avalon Saga and now you feel dirty and ashamed and don't know if you're Pagan anymore - good-bye. I honestly can't say how Pagan you were to begin with if what sparked your interest in the religion did not lead you to read non-fiction books on Pagan paths, or history, or mythology, or folklore. If Mists of Avalon was just your starting off point and you did do further research and began practicing because of both influences, maybe you need to reevaluate just how important the novel was, but you don't need to throw everything out, and you can grow and learn to better discern what you choose to guide you and who your guides will be.

Marion Zimmer Bradley was not a Pagan author, but the person who collaborated with her and continued the Avalon Saga after her death, Diana L Paxson, is. Paxson is a member of the Troth and has written books on Asatru, runelore and trance-states (in addition to being a pretty popular mainstream fantasy writer; her White Raven, a take on the tale of Tristan and Isolde, was quite excellent). I don't know how much Paxson knew Bradley outside their collaborations, or if she had any clue about what was happening in Bradley's private life. It will be interesting to see how and if Paxson responds to the allegations against the woman she probably owes a good portion of her own fame to.

I want to stress - hating someone does not mean you have to hate their art. The best art can come from the psychologically disturbed. Joan Crawford (now more famous for being Mommy Dearest than for her acting career) was a great actress. Roman Polansky (convicted statutory rapist) is a great director (and added to his tragedy is that his wife and unborn child were victims of Charles Manson), as is Woody Allen (he married his adopted step-daughter after divorcing her mother, Mia Farrow, and is somehow both claustrophobic and agoraphobic). Based on what I read in On the Road, Jack Kerouac is a misogynist; he's a wonderful writer and it's masterfully written, but it makes me angry to read it, as does much of what Hemingway writes. “Hills Like White Elephants” (a short story about a man forcing his mistress to have an abortion), comes to mind, but I still like how he writes. Aleister Crowley did not treat his lovers very kindly as a rule, but he is still one of the best authorities on occult matters (people still buy and reference his works sixty-seven years after his death). I would say buy their works second hand, as no part of your payment goes to their royalties. And if they're dead, don't stress that you're somehow supporting them, you're more supporting their publishing companies and maybe their descendents at this point (and really, in the case of Bradley, as her children were her victims, one could argue you should buy more of her books to help support them).

The main lesson here is not to put people on pedestals. We're all human, all flawed. Anyone given enough scrutiny will shows cracks (the paparazzi have proven that more than a few times now). Don't idolize human beings. Any one of us could be wolves in sheep's clothing; and even sheep have teeth and some have horns.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Welcome Back! Your Dreams Were Your Ticket Out...

So, I’m going to try to get into being more regular with this blog. I never was very regular but, if you’ve noticed, I’ve been on a hiatus that lasted over a year. Last year, the first derailment of the blog was my Halloween costume. My office actually has a costume competition every year and I wanted to go as Queen Elizabeth I. The costume ate a lot of my free time in September and October, with a mad dash at the end to complete it. However, I did manage to do so and I won…so it was worth it. This year, I started my costume in July and it’s…mostly complete now. I hope to avoid the mad dash of last year.

The other reason I backed away from the blog is I was hoping to focus on fiction and get a novel pumped out. That didn’t happen either. I have found that my writing style is probably best suited for non-fiction as I tend to be conversational (which is awesome when writing dialogue, not so good when trying to develop action).  This leaves me firmly entrenched in non-fiction.  Which, while it’s still a creative outlet, really diminishes the likelihood of my becoming a famous author and thus rich through my writing.  The problem is that many of the ideas I have had lately have already been discussed at length by people who are “more out there” than I am (not necessarily Big Name Pagans, but at least Mid-level Name Pagans who seem like they are Big Name Pagans to me), being a pretty much No-Name Pagan.

In most recent developments, Barnabus and I have been accepted to train as distance students in a Traditional Witchcraft coven, which we are both very excited about, but which will probably only be discussed here in very vague terms.  Not because we feel we’re getting any super-secret, oath-bound information, but because it’s quite frankly not something easily discussed.  I’ve never been a student of anyone’s before (in Pagan or Witch related things anyway), and I’m not exactly sure how it will go. Only time will tell.

So, that’s where we’re at right now.


May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy,

BellaDonna Saberhagen

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Vampire Experiment

So, I recently purchased a very silly book (ok, I was laughing at it and Barnabus bought it for me). How to be a Vampire by Amy Gray. It was $4.00 at Books-A-Million and it is filled with pictures and lessons on being a vampire. I certainly hope the author isn't taking it seriously (but even with the stylized Vampire: the Masquerade art, it doesn't look far off from the cheap illustrated spell books I have, which are supposed to be serious, even if you can't stand in a 3 ft. diameter circle in a robe with lit candles and not turn into an effigy) and it should be a lark. Of course, even if it takes itself seriously, it'll still be a lark.

So, I think I'm going to review it here for the fun of it. Sometime this weekend, I will go over the Table of Contents with you, as it, in and of itself, is worth a look.

Until then.

May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy,

BellaDonna Saberhagen

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fire Water Burn

There’s something I don’t understand. It’s a sentiment that has been bugging me since I read my first book on Wicca. I didn’t really believe it when I first read it, and I believe it even less now that I’ve really thought about it.

I’m talking about the rule that says (paraphrasing, of course), “Never blow out candles because it offends the element of Fire to be using Air to put it out.” Why do I not agree with this?
First, it’s counter-intuitive. The very first act of magic that any child in America uses is blowing out the candles on their birthday cake while making a wish. Not so much witchcraft as wish-craft, but it’s still one of the most common forms of folk magic we use in modern society. When I was a kid, blowing out candles granted wishes, it made magic. I think this explains the rule not meshing with my core beliefs.

Another reason is that Fire is a very interesting element. It cannot survive without Air and Earth (in the form of burnable fuel), and Water (which is chemically made up of flammable gases) puts it out. Fire has a very interesting relationship with the other three elements and its one that needs to be taken into consideration when pondering this rule.   

Let’s look at what blowing out a candle does. If the fire were large, adding wind from one direction would push the flames onto new fuel, spreading the fire and making it larger. In the case of a single, candle’s flame, it pushes the flame off its fuel source, extinguishing the flame since there is no other fuel source directly behind it.  This is why it takes special effort to extinguish multiple candles on a birthday cake.  

The preferred method for extinguishing candles in Wicca 101 books is through snuffing. Either with a snuffer made for that purpose, with the tip of your athame (which just gets it all black and waxy), or (my least favorite) by pinching with wetted fingers. When I tried to believe this, I used my athame to snuff them out precisely once (I hated what it did to the blade and vowed to never do it again). I have a healthy fear of the power of fire, I don’t even test the iron by the lick and touch method (I won’t even use hot styling methods on my hair anymore), so the pinching method was out. So I bought a candle snuffer. But what does snuffing do? It removes the Air that feeds the Fire. Therefore, you are still vanquishing Fire through manipulation of Air.

You can’t get away from using other elements to extinguish Fire. Camp fires are put out with a combination of Water and Earth used to smother the flames. If using Air to extinguish Fire offends it, then shouldn’t it also be offended when you safely put out any Fire using any of the more natural methods available to us to do so?

The most ridiculous thing I’ve seen as a way to “avoid blowing out a candle” is someone waving their hand over it to create enough air flow to blow the candle out. That’s still using Air, so it’s just as “bad” and it looks ridiculous. Though they probably thought I was an uneducated philistine for blowing mine out.

Anyway, back to my birthday cake analogy. If magic is supposed to be a combination of your own will and the power of the world around you (however you quantify that power or how you choose to manipulate it), then you are only adding more of yourself to it by adding your breath to the equation. Breathing techniques are very popular in many forms of the modern Neo-Pagan movement, most of these are taken from Eastern influences, though you might be surprised that the Odic breath was the breath of life in Norse mythology (though there is some discrepancy if Odin gave the Odic breath, or if it was Freya’s vanished husband Od, or even if Odin is Od) and are used to quiet the mind in preparation for ritual and some are used to raise energy in a more subdued way than through chanting or dancing. If you finish everything by blowing out the candle, you’re just adding more of your own power to the spell…and isn’t that what magical techniques are about anyway? Making spells more personal and more effective? 

May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy, 

BellaDonna Saberhagen

Sunday, August 19, 2012


So, I have been considering the definition of "fluffy", or at least what it means to me. I've realized that the term is too broad and I need to narrow it into categories. Please note that, in most cases, I'm also poking fun at my past self. I used to be fluffy, in a variety of ways.

A "Fluffy Bunny" is a baby Pagan (Pagan for under a year) who has read one book on Wicca (or any form of Paganism, but Wicca is typically the go to for beginners) and declares themselves to be experts on all things magical and gives themselves titles such as Lady/Lord in either online discussions or at public Pagan gatherings (though they seem to meet Pagans in real life very rarely). I actually still have issues meeting with Pagans in public. I'm a bit socially awkward and afraid that if I say anything at all, I'll offend someone, so I just say nothing (basically I'm either all filter or no filter). I don't have issues pissing people off online because I don't believe there can be any real energetic interaction through cyberspace (I know there are online covens who would disagree, but I even think electricity in general can cause issues with working magic, so I don't think an entirely virtual Pagan experience is entirely valid) therefore, I don't believe they can give me the "evil eye" or, as the Irish would put it, "overlook" me; that is not the case in physical reality.

Someone who is just "Fluffy" can either be Pagan or subscribe to some form of New Age spirituality that is not necessarily Pagan in influence. I don't really know that Neo-Paganism should be lumped in with New Age spirituality, but according to bookstores, it's the same and while there is some overlap, there are vast differences. A Fluffy person can be on their path for years and still be Fluffy. The main criteria here is the belief that there is no evil in the universe and every spirit (or alien race) you come across wants to be your friend and help humanity evolve to the next level of enlightenment. This is a foolish outlook. For Pagans, it completely ignores the folklore of our pagan ancestors (there are PLENTY of stories about pissing off gods, faeries, etc and how NOT to do that and the repercussions of doing so) and essentially states their beliefs were wrong while we are somehow still trying to build a system based upon those beliefs. This makes absolutely no sense. For the New Agers out there: there is absolutely no reason to believe that any alien race that is more technologically advanced than us (if there are any that are that advanced) would automatically want to help us and not destroy us before we do to the galaxy what we have done to our own planet. These can also be big believers in The Secret (which, by the way, was a concept even spouted in the 1980s on "The Golden Girls" and was not new or worthy of all the hype by 2006-when the film debuted) as a way of life. Basically, Dharma from "Dharma and Greg" was a Fluffy. Not necessarily a bad person, but definitely has an outlook so bright that it becomes hard for them to deal with harsher realities that come their way.

Here's a new one I came up with: "Fluffernutter". This is the category I have set aside for those Pagans (or New Agers, though typically they have outer space or Atlantean connections) who may or may not already belong to the first two categories, but also believe they are somehow "special" or "different" (and thus, a better Pagan than you).  Most "Otherkin" belong in this category for me. I have heard some compelling arguments for therianthropy,  but I still think they're misinterpreting a natural shamanic gift (and in some cases spiritual disease) as somehow being "other" than a normal, human Pagan. Those who believe they are the avatars of Pagan gods (see one of my first posts) definitely get this title (as it's not only "out there" but extremely rude to those who worship said Pagan deity). Typically arguments contrary to their "otherness" are met with vehemence and the assumption that you are somehow a closed-minded bigot. These, again (like the Fluffy Bunny), are Pagans that typically don't get out into the real Pagan world and when they do, expect the same form of acceptance they get on their Otherkin forums. Fluffy Bunnies are the perfect candidates to eventually become Fluffernutters (it's a very easy step, I know because it happened to me).

I need to come up with a name for the type of fluff that ignores historical evidence altogether in favor of the fakelore often passed down as factual history within the Pagan community. The "Burning Fluffs"?  Hmm... need to work on that one and a description, but I think I'm going to let it go at this for now.

May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy,

BellaDonna Saberhagen

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Busy Weekends

The past two weekends have been busy and I have not been home to write. Last weekend was a blast at a friend's "tent city" birthday bash. I think it was quite a suitable way to celebrate Lughnasadh a bit early.

I barely had enough time before Lughnasadh to decorate my broom (one of the things I do, more to remind myself and get myself into the mood for a Sabbat is decorate a broom that I hang over the entrance to the apartment, for Lughnasadh, it's fake grass, wheat and sunflowers) before we had to pack up and leave on Saturday.

In more recent news, I am branching out a bit from my North-western European focus and am actually adding a Roman deity to the mix (this is a big deal as when you mention Rome to me, I envision Boudicca kicking their asses). This deity is Fortuna. While Roman culture does not appeal to me, I must say that the USA is the "new" Roman Empire (and we are crumbling from within in the same manner) and we have similar visions as to what constitutes fortune and luck. I cannot think of a directly cognate deity that fits in with the rest of my worship (other than maybe Guldveig, but she was a giantess reviled and murdered by the Aesir for bringing greed into the world...I don't think Barnabus's Odin would appreciate her presence).

The reason I feel I got the green light? Well, Fire Lyte and Velma Nightshade have both brought her into their live recently and things have been going well for them (at least according to Inciting a Riot). I'm kind of sick of being poor, I'm sick of working jobs I hate, barely making ends meet, and not being able to afford much fun at all. So, I considered spending some of my birthday money on a Fortuna statue. I pulled one up on Amazon, but I would not commit to buy it. Now, I have a bit of a Firefox tab addiction, I open tons of tabs and keep them open for no real reason other than not to have to load the page when I want to look at it again, so the tab was up for about a week. And in that time I won $50.00 on  a $2.00 scratch off ticket. That was the green light. So I pulled up Ebay to do some price comparisons and I found a white porcelain Fortuna that was about half the price of the bronze one I was looking at on Amazon. Not only was this one cheaper, but it matches better with the  Greek statues I purchased for Barnabus in the past (aside from Odin, he's mainly into the Greek pantheon) and looks more classically "Roman" (yes, I realize that they were painted all sorts of bright colors originally, but when we see these statues, they're so white and pristine it's hard to imagine them as anything else). So, Fortuna is on the way. Now I just need to find suitable shrine placement.

One of these days, I'll replace my plaques of The Morrigan and Cernunnos with real statues, but I'm finding it very hard to find ones I like. I like the older imagery, but I'd like it to be updated (without becoming modern "witchy" fantasy-esque...I see so many images of The Morrigan that make her look more like a Gothic Witch than a bad-ass Goddess that it kind of saddens me).

Anyway, that' the news. If you want the weather, look out your window.

May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy,

BellaDonna Saberhagen

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Seeing" things

So, as part of my daily practice, I have been doing awareness exercises (specifically as outlined in Robin Artisson's book "The Witching Way of the Hollow Hill"). I do this exercise, along with the Serpent Breath twice daily and I think it might be paying off...

Or I'm going insane (again). I'm skeptical to my core and one of my knee-jerk reactions since escaping my fluffy years is to doubt anything without a physical manifestation. Back then, I thought I saw things all the time (including a salamander - a fire elemental- in the elevator of my old apartment building); and so, naturally, when I dredged myself out of the fluff-pit and chose to face reality, I began to doubt all the things I'd seen and experienced as part of my early Craft years.

I work in what is now an office building but used to be an old train station during the 1800s, it's known to be haunted. I've started seeing things out of the corner of my eye, only to move my head to get a better look and find nothing there. On Friday, going up the stairs, I saw a dazzling bit of rainbow light zoom up the height of the stairwell as I was coming up. Now, have I really been "seeing" those things? Is it my over-active imagination?

Basically, I'm not sure what to make of it yet, but I'll keep my practice going and try not to knee-jerk my way out of it again. Maybe I can find a balance between the realities that doesn't involve me completely living in fluffy la-la land.

May you be blessed by whichever gods you fancy,

BellaDonna Saberhagen