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The Monday Book: THE LONG WINTER by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I found THE LONG WINTER at a thrift store, one of my first fun outings in a year involving non-socially-distant hiking. The title looks different when you’ve emerged from your chrysalis, post-vaxx and post-winter weather, to go do something with a friend.

Most American school children read this book before they graduate middle school. As a child I had the boxed set and devoured them over and over. It’s a little odd to read them as an adult and realize how much sweetness hides some truly terrible things.

Last night I read LONG WINTER in one sitting. How did I miss that sense of threat that pervades every chapter, as the family ticks down from the last of the butter to the last of the milk to the last of the flour to the last of the potatoes, to the last of the burnable fuel? The dawning realization of the townspeople that the train was not coming, the train that was their literal supply line, anchoring them out on the prairie with the safety of coal and already-ground wheat and other “new-fangled” things like kerosene. Ma’s ingenuity at producing a button lamp from axle grease. Pa buying the last two cans of oysters in town for Christmas dinner. The hay sticks that they burned as fast as they made them; twist hay to have the warmth to twist more hay.

And the darkness. The robbery that Pa participated in to get the supplies he came home with.The dying of the lamp on Christmas Night. The inability to buy flour or lumber at any price because “Banker Ruth bought it all.” What happened to Banker Ruth when winter was over, one wonders?

The heroism of Almanzo and Cap, going to buy wheat from a man in the middle of nowhere, is offset by the fact that Almanzo walled up 150 bushels of wheat before they left. So no one could ask him to buy it.

It is a different book as an adult than as a child. I’ve observed there are several rewrites and washouts of these American classics over time, based on racist overtones and the charming overwrites of things like being illegally in Indian territory, or quite possibly murdering a railroad employee, etc. You know, these are still American classics. Just, now that I can see what wasn’t meant to be visible to children, I appreciate Wilder’s two-layer genius in writing all the more. She told the whole story, twice at the same time, for two different audiences. Gonna go back and read the rest of these now.

Yep, American classics: fear, prejudices, frontier justice, snowball fights, family spirit, and all.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: WHEN GOD HAD A WIFE

The Monday book comes from Paul Garrett this week.

Throughout history, deities have been both male and female; whether the Sumerian gods of Enki and Nammu, the Egyptian Isis and Osiris, or the pantheon of the Greeks and Romans. It seems Judeo-Christianity is one of the few religions with a singular male deity.

Or not.

 In When God Had A Wife, The Fall and Rise of the Sacred Feminine in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Lynn (Bear and Company, 2019) Picknett and Clive Prince put forth the theory that this was not always so, even after the time of Jesus. Picknett and Prince relate the history of Judaism from the Egyptian enslavement through the 4th century BCE. Using the Bible and over 100 other sources, they attempt to prove that the so-called “sacred feminine” has been a major part of religious practice throughout the history of both sects.

Worship of a female goddess took many forms, until about 400 BCE when Nehemiah “discovered” the book of Deuteronomy. (Quotation marks by the authors; they posit that he actually wrote it.) Up until that time the Jews worshiped a goddess named Asherah, among others who is the female counterpart to Baal.  Asherah was a goddess of fertility and nurture. Hundreds of small Asherah statues litter ancient Jewish sites, including Jerusalem. There is some evidence that they once adorned the courtyards of the Jewish Temples. Asherah statues usually have large breasts and a prominent pubic triangle. This is not meant to be erotic. The breasts represent nurture and the pubic area creation.

The Old Testament mentions Asherah more than half a dozen times, mostly in Judges and Kings. One of the most interesting is from Judges 6:25-30 wherein the townspeople demanded the life of Gideon’s son after they found Gideon had cut down the Asherah statue.

Even though repressed by the religious elites, female worship did not go away, but took the form of Wisdom. According to the authors, the word wisdom (Sophia) in biblical writing echoes the sacred feminine, even when uttered by Christ.

In the New testament it gets more controversial. According to the authors, Jesus also had a female counterpart, Mary Magdalene, who took on the role of goddess. The Church falsely accused her of being a prostitute as a means of discrediting her. The Magdalene controversy is interesting, with some so-called Gnostic gospels, even indicating Mary was Jesus’ wife. The Church labeled the Gnostic texts heretical in the first Millennium, BCE.

The authors theorize that with Mary Magdalene out of the picture, it became clear that there was a void that needed to be filled, hence Mary, Mother of Jesus (the Madonna) was recruited to take her place, resulting in various Madonna cults arising throughout Christendom.

This is obviously a controversial topic among modern Christians. It occurs to me that only a few hundred years ago these authors might have been burned at the stake. But all nature is binary: up/ down, left/ right, dark/light good/evil, male/female, yin/yang. Why should the same balance not occur in the deity?

Was the sacred feminine suppressed by the chauvinistic church, or is it yet another of the myriad cults and fads in Judeo-Christianity that have come and gone through the centuries? After thousands of years, I doubt that the controversy will be laid to rest any time soon.

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