Judy Bunce (judyb) Thu 3 Jun 99 16:24
Amazing. Thank you.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 4 Jun 99 17:40
What inspired you to write a trilogy about neolithic Europe, Mary? From what I know about the rest of your interests, this seems kind of like an anomoly...
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 6 Jun 99 12:56
On the contrary, the themes in "The Earthsong Trilogy" have appeared in my work for the last twenty-seven years. For example, vImmersion" (1972), my first novel, was set in the rain forest of Costa Rica and dealt with the destruction of nature by scientists who no longer considered it sacred; "A Grand Passion" (1986), which told the story of three generations of great ballerinas, looked at the ways women strive for power and creative expression (both strong themes in the later trilogy). "Season of Shadows" (1991), which tells the story of two women (one of whom has been a member of the Weather Underground) explores questions of friendship, courage, loyalty, and moral choice. Actually courage, moral choice, the love of nature, and the strength of women's friendships are themes in all my novels and much of my poetry. But the most obvious link to "The Earthsong Trilogy" is "The Last Warrior Queen", published in 1983 which was, I think, about ten years too early, since no one knew how to market it. There were rave quotes on the cover by Tillie Olsen and Marge Piercy, but there was no category for visionary fiction or women's fiction in those days, so it got sold as science fiction/fantasy, which it certainly wasn't. I set the novel in the Middle East just before the rise of Sumerian culture. It's the story of the warrior queen of one of the last matriarchal civilizations, her initiation as a priestess, and her fight against nomad invaders (sound familiar?). To give the novel mythological depth, I based the plot on a great Sumerian epic poem about the Goddess Inanna.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 6 Jun 99 12:58
Now let me get a little more specific. You asked what inspired me to write a trilogy about Neolithic Europe. The simple answer is that the three novels of "The Earthsong Trilogy" were inspired by the brilliant scholarship of the late archaeologist Marija Gimbutas (whom I consider to be one of the unacknowledged geniuses of our era). About eight years ago I picked up Gimbutas's two studies of Neolithic Europe: "The Language of the Goddess" and "The Civilization of the Goddess." Up until then, I'd assumed that, in Europe 6000 years ago, people were hunting, gathering, and living in caves pretty much like the characters in Jean Auel's novels had lived twenty-five thousand years earlier. Gimbutas (a professor at UCLA and before that a Research Fellow at Harvard), presented evidence that the people of Old Europe had cities (some with populations exceeding 10,000), and complex trade routes. They worked metal (copper and gold, no bronze), wove cloth in complex patterns, and made beautiful pottery (many examples of which I later saw when I traveled through Rumania and Bulgaria to do research for the novels). According to Gimbutas, the people of Neolithic Europe worshipped the earth as the Great Mother Goddess, the source of all living things. The earth-as-goddess took many forms (bear, deer, owl, snake), but wherever she was worshipped, women appear to have had status and power in society. They did not rule over men in some kind of reverse, matriarchal dictatorship; but they were priestesses; they sat on the village councils. The most interesting thing Gimbutas discovered was that there were no signs of organized warfare in the earth-goddess worshiping cultures until around 4300 B.C.E. when nomad invaders from the steppes reintroduced the horse into Europe. These invaders brought genocidal warfare with them. They were patriarchal, and they worshipped male sky gods. In their culture, everything important was in Heaven. The earth was just dirt: real estate to be owned, traded, and fought over. The nomad conquest took about 2500 years, but everywhere the invaders ruled, women and children became at best second-class citizens; at worst, slaves. In fact archaeologists occasionally find women and children sacrificed in the graves of nomad chiefs. When I read Gimbutas's work, I experienced what I can only describe as a revelation. Suddenly Western European culture made sense to me: it was not one culture but a blend of two cultures, like a marble cake. Also, from an artistic stand-point, I realized that here was a thematic sequel to "The Last Warrior Queen." The more I studied Neolithic Europe, the more I became convinced that many of our current ecological and social problems come from the values introduced into Neolithic by nomad invaders 6000 years ago. I call this "The Great Wrong Turning": that moment when we stopped seeing the earth as sacred and adopted the values of a fierce warrior culture (which in our own time have become global).
Professor Bombardier (philcat) Tue 8 Jun 99 12:39
<tucking in shirt, clearing throat> Well...ahem....as I was saying...hello again, everyone. So sorry about having been rather scarce in these parts the last few days. I was, uh, derailed, or rather waylaid, or, um, you know, *busy*. Anyway, I'm back. Thank you, and let's now get back to our discussion of the work of novelist Mary Mackey, and our conversation with Ms. Mackey herself. Now, then, Ms. Mackey, what was it that inspired you to write a trilogy about neolithic Europe in the first place? What's that? You say someone has already *asked* this question? And that you've already *answered* it? Oh, dear. Well, let's see then <shuffling papers>... Ah, yes. Well, that's perfect. It works right into my plan. I was *going* to bring up your famed "Earthsong Trilogy," and now that I haven't, er, I mean, now that someone else has, we can just continue along those veins, or in that line, or, um, well, ahem. So, as I was about to ask, how did you get from Sumeria to Europe? That is, after your encounter with the work of Maria Gimbutas, did you abandon an earlier plan to write more about Sumeria? Could you have explored the same themes in a series on ancient Sumeria? Was it the fact of Dr. Gimbutas's research that led you to concentrate on ancient Europe, or did you feel that, since most of our culture's antecedents are European, there was more for us to learn from a treatment of that culture's ancient roots? Please don't get too bogged down in those questions; those are just the warmups. Here are the real essay questions: Your trilogy has sparked some controversy, and even been attacked in some quarters (by, let's call them what they are, know-nothings). Notwithstanding that controversy, and given your own identification of "The Great Wrong Turning," do you think it is possible to have a hopeful vision for our culture? What will it take for us to make a Great Right Turning (not to be confused with a Great Right*ward* Turning), and what will the world look like afterward? In the Earthsong Trilogy we see a blending of the two cultures, but we know that that blending will not produce a salutary outcome. We can't undo the blending; for that matter, the two ends of the spectrum represented by the two cultures are extant in us all anyway, as humans, and we can no sooner get rid of the *impulse* to, say, make war than we can get rid of the sky. (What we can do, hopefully, is mitigate our more dangerous impulses, learn to work with them in ways that aren't dangerous to ourselves or others.) But looking to our future, how can we restore ourselves to psycho-spiritual health--individually and as a society? Is it enough to recover our sense of the sacredness of the earth (and how do we do that)? These may not be the kinds of questions normally posed to novelists, but on the other hand, one doesn't produce work such as the Earthsong Trilogy without having thought long and hard on questions much like these, I shouldn't think, and anyway I'm the interviewer here and I get to ask any damn question I please, and besides I know you'll have darn fine answers for them! Ahem.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 11 Jun 99 11:19
Before I solve all the problems of western civilization for you, let me respond to the questions that don't demand white robes and incense. I did indeed abandon an earlier plan to write more novels on the themes I explored in "The Last Warrior Queen." Originally, I had planed "The Last Warrior Queen" to be the first in a series of six novels. In fact I had complete plot outlines and very complicated character charts for all six before I began to write "The Last Warrior Queen." In the novels that never got written, the characters who had appeared in "The Last Warrior Queen" were to have been reincarnated in different historical eras. Sometimes the male characters would be reborn as females; sometimes the women would be reborn as men. Family relationships would shift: a character might be the mother in one era; the child in the next. A person might kill in one era, be killed in the next. There was to be a passionate love affair running through all six novels: 6000 years of meeting, loving, and parting with the added fun that the sexes of the two lovers would keep changing. Each time my lovers met for the first time, the reader would recognize that they were soul mates, but the lovers themselves wouldn't know it for a while.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 11 Jun 99 11:21
The second novel was to be set in Europe during the great witch burnings of the sixteenth century. It explored the struggle between institutionalized Christianity and the ancient nature- centered religions. Novel #3 was to be set in Peru at the time of the Spanish conquest (the Spanish were to take on the role that the invading nomads took in the Sumerian saga). Novel #4 was to be set in the South in nineteenth century and was to be an examination of nature-centered African religions struggling to survive under the yoke of slavery. Novel #5 was set in the U.S. during the era of the Vietnam War. Novel #6, the final novel, was to be a vision of the future. In this novel humanity, having lost spiritual contact with the earth, was to be brought to the brink of nuclear destruction (maybe over the brink: I hadn't completely decided). As you can see, if I'd written these novels, I would have answered many of your questions.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 11 Jun 99 11:22
Why didn't I write them? Why did I turn to Europe instead. The answer is simple: in 1978 there was not yet a large enough audience for such novels. I had to wait another fifteen years or so before the reading public became interested in the stuff I'd been interested in since the late sixties. By the time that happened, I had discovered the work of Marija Gimbutas. She had recovered a whole world and it was just sitting there, every detail, every cup, sacred statue, and temple model, waiting to be turned into fiction. Her theory of the nomad invasions, the conquest of the goddess people of Old Europe, and the subsequent dual cultural aspect of western European civilization hit me (as I said earlier) with the force of a revelation. Writers don't so much get ideas as get mugged by ideas. The story of "The Earthsong Trilogy" came to me from the deepest level. I knew immediately that these were the three books I wanted to write. Had to write.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 11 Jun 99 11:23
Now on to the impossible questions. Is it possible to have a hopeful vision for our culture? No. Not unless we change our attitude toward the planet and all living things on it. Not unless we recognize that we are not gods and the earth has not been put here for us to exploit as we please. Not unless we start respecting women and children, take care of our old people, stop building weapons of mass destruction, and ban tinkering with DNA, the basic building block of life. Not unless we become more humble and acknowledge how little we really know. Not unless we realize that nature is composed of complex, beautiful systems that we should preserve, not just because they are beautiful but because preserving them is the most important thing we can do to insure our own survival as a species.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 11 Jun 99 11:24
We've lost a spiritual connection with the earth. We desperately need to get it back. You can see the nature as God's perfect and divine creation, one that humans shouldn't try to unmake; or you can worship the earth Herself as a living Goddess. It doesn't matter. You can come at this as a Christian, as a pagan, through almost all of the world's religions; or even come at it from a secular angle, through chaos theory, through the understanding that tiny modifications in complex systems can have catastrophic, unanticipated consequences. We can't return to 4300. Most of us (myself included) wouldn't want to. But we can remember where we were and what we believed before we took that wrong turn. And believing, we can make amends.
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Fri 11 Jun 99 12:26
Amen to amends!
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 11 Jun 99 20:47
I'm looking forward to reading those other six novels.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 12 Jun 99 12:47
Ah, if there is world enough and time . . . .
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Mon 14 Jun 99 13:16
Mary, I could go on asking you questions forever--I've been asking you questions as long as I've known you, and it's worked so far--but I know you're leaving town in a few days and have a lot to do before you leave, so I guess we'll have to wrap this up. I want to thank you for all your insight, eloquence and playfulness, as well as taking the time to hang out with us here. I join everyone else here in looking forward to the release of your next novel...and the one after that...and the one after that...and so on. I wouldn't be me if I didn't ask you one or three last questions: 1) Where are you going on your trip? 2) What's the last really swell novel (not your own) that you read--you know, the one you're recommending to all your friends? If no novel comes to mind, a film will do nicely. 3) What book are you taking with you on your vacation? Have a great trip--send us a postcard!--and thanks again for a swell time.
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 14 Jun 99 21:29
1) I'm going to Indiana to see my parents and my blues-singin' sister; then on to Kansas to see my ninety-two-year-old mother- in-law. (It's not very exotic, but given my past history, I'll probably be attacked by a rabid cow.) 2) The best novel I've read lately is a hard call, but if you haven't read "The Music Lesson" by Katharine Weber or "Hunting Down Home" by Jean McNeil, you've been missing some of the best fiction to come out this year. 3) I only have to take a book to read on the plane, because my mother is such an avid reader that her house could probably qualify as a branch of the public library. Given that I am a very nervous flier (see above), I think I will take Steven Saylor's new novel "Rubicon." It's a mystery set in ancient Rome. Saylor is an expert on Roman politics and life, and his stories are so entertaining that I am pretty sure this one will distract me from fantasies of clear air turbulence and sudden plunges into the void. Thanks for being a wonderful Question Bombardier, Phil. I've enjoyed this interview immensely.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 15 Jun 99 10:04
Great fun, Mary and Phil.
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Tue 15 Jun 99 13:36
Thank *you*, Mary, for being such a delightful bombardee; and Reva and David, for affording me the opportunity. It was some serious fun!
David Gans (tnf) Tue 15 Jun 99 15:59
I have been checking in only sporadically (I'm on vacation in Australia), but I would like to talk a little about something that has emerged from the conversations with Andrew Brown and Mary Mackey. I have read Marija Gimbutas' "The Chalice and the Blade," and I got a lot out of it. And Andrew mentioned someone who had determined that the course of life on earth inevitably favors aggressive societies rather than cooperative ones. History seems to bear this out. What the hell are we gonna DO, I wanna know.
born cross-eyed (dpd) Tue 15 Jun 99 23:22
I think that's Riane Eislers' book, The Chalice and the Blade. y
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 16 Jun 99 08:32
Yep. And I just want to add my thanks to Mary and Phil for a wonderful interview. Anyone who wants to keep chatting informally on the topics raised here, by all means, go ahead. And Mary, one of these days, when you have time, wouldja come back and tell the "ants" story?
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 16 Jun 99 13:46
Sure. Or, alternatively, people can buy a copy of "I Should Have Stayed Home: The Worst Trips of Great Writers" edited by roger Rapoport and Maarguerita Castanera, Bookpassage Press, ISBN 1-57143-014-8. All profits go to the charity Oxfam which helds the hungry, world-wide. The true story of the night the army ants crawled over me is entitled "Night of the Army Ants."
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 16 Jun 99 13:46
that should have been "helps" the hungry. Oxfam gives out a lot more than hugs.
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 16 Jun 99 16:48
Great plug. And it's a wonderful book!
Phil Catalfo (philcat) Wed 16 Jun 99 17:27
>What the hell are we gonna DO, I wanna know. I don't have any perfect answers, but what I've learned is that one can only (and must) do what one can do, which in this context means to try and come to terms with aggressiveness in one's own self. I was a pacifist and a conscientious objector in 1970, but learned years later that I had a lot of sublimated anger. It was only after seeing how that anger, given a kind of pot-boiling-over voice, upset my kids that I started to deal with it. A lot of historical aggression stems from fear/hatred of The Other, which has to do with insecurity with (or ignorance of) the self. Time and energy invested into processing that can reduce the amount of violence in the world. I just finished reading (and reviewing, for Yoga Journal--see our September/October issue) a very interesting new book by Matthew Fox, that bears some relevance to this question: "Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Lessons for Transforming Evil in Soul and Society" (Harmony). Fox does a very interesting thing, in that he correlates the seven chakras (from Eastern philosophy) with the "seven cardinal sins," showing how "misdirected" chakras lead to sins such as fear, hatred, resentment, pursuit of unhealthy power, racism, fascism, and so on. He also suggests "sacraments" for "cleansing" each of the chakras, and provides "spiritual exercises." Fox is a very engaging writer and this is a very interesting treatise, and I recommend it heartily.
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 16 Jun 99 19:09
Sounds like a great book, Phil. I have been meditating for years. I don't know if this helps the world, but it certainly helps me be kinder and calmer on an individual level.
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