inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #26 of 53: Judy Bunce (judyb) Thu 3 Jun 99 16:24
    
Amazing.  Thank you.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #27 of 53: 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...
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #28 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #29 of 53: 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).
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #30 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #31 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #32 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #33 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #34 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #35 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #36 of 53: Phil Catalfo (philcat) Fri 11 Jun 99 12:26
    
Amen to amends!
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #37 of 53: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 11 Jun 99 20:47
    
I'm looking forward to reading those other six novels.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #38 of 53: Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 12 Jun 99 12:47
    

Ah, if there is world enough and time . . . .
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #39 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #40 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #41 of 53: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 15 Jun 99 10:04
    
Great fun, Mary and Phil.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #42 of 53: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #43 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #44 of 53: born cross-eyed (dpd) Tue 15 Jun 99 23:22
    
I think that's Riane Eislers'
book, The Chalice and the Blade.

y
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #45 of 53: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #46 of 53: 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."
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #47 of 53: Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 16 Jun 99 13:46
    

that should have been "helps" the hungry. Oxfam gives out a lot
more than hugs.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #48 of 53: Reva Basch (reva) Wed 16 Jun 99 16:48
    
Great plug. And it's a wonderful book!
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #49 of 53: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.39 : Mary Mackey, Writer, Wit and Bonne Vivante
permalink #50 of 53: 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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