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Thursday, July 24, 2008

All you need is Aphrodite
Some months ago, Laurelei Dabrielle--High Priestess of Dragon's Eye Coven--sent me an invitation to review her book, In Her Service: Reflections from a Priestess of Aphrodite (Magic Woods Publishing, 2007). I was in the middle of one of the busiest times in both my personal and professional life. It was sent in the form of an e-book, which usually makes me leery--quality being a gamble there. I took a look at the stack of pages emerging from my printer, took a quick flip through ("Chapter 1: Priestess or Prostitute?") and thought, "Right...I'll get around to this someday..."

Someday--coincidentally?--turned out to be July 22, which is the Great Lady Mary Magdalene's day and, as I learned from Dabrielle's text, deep into Hekatombaion, the first month of the Athenian calendar, during which fell the bathing feast known as Aphrodisia. I also discovered that there was much to admire and enjoy in Dabrielle's well-written account of this little-publicized aspect of pagan practice.

Raised a Baptist in the Midwest, Dabrielle began to explore neopagan paths through the Internet and some covens and eventually felt most called to service of the One she calls "the violet-crowned Kyprian" and many other expressive honorifics. She interprets and honors Aphrodite in a way that makes sense to her, and she's not out to convert anyone to her particular approach. She is, by her own admission, a "hodge-podge," and I can certainly identify with her eclecticism and avoidance of dogma. She does not take herself too seriously, and her voice, throughout the book, is conversational even when authoritative.

If you have never considered Aphrodite (a.k.a. Venus) a serious goddess, then read this book, and the scales will fall from your eyes. I remember once hearing someone opine that the reason so many ancient statues of Aphrodite are armless is because they were deliberately ordered de-armed by the testosterone-fueled, but highly threatened, powers that be. I can't say if that's historically accurate, but Dabrielle underscores the formidable power of Aphrodite as more than a beneficent, even lightweight and easily-trivialized, goddess of romance and sensuality. The Lady should be understood as a Great Goddess archetype--Mother Creator, Majestic Harlot and Fierce Avenger. In Her Service relates the interwoven myths that show Aphrodite in all of these powerful roles.

Okay, so what about the nervous-making "prostitution" angle? Dabrielle includes an extensive discussion of the historical practice of "temple prostitution" or "sacred sex" and its problem for modern sensibilities and United States law but argues that "sex is only one aspect of Her service" and, indeed, an aspect that can be omitted if does not suit you. Priestesses did then and do now invoke, contact and often embody the Goddess, enabling supplicants to benefit from Her energy, whether it be through simple, compassionate acts of warmth and kindness or through actual ritual copulation as in the neopagan Great Rite (physically uniting the embodied Goddess and God). While Dabrielle notes the many ways in which Aphrodite worship may be expressed, she has her personal limits and counsels readers to decide what's best for them and respect their own boundaries, too.

"At its essence," she writes, "the force at work is that of Love," and goes on to speak about the priestess (and Goddess) as healer in a way that reminds me of the wonderful role Ann Margaret played in the movie Grumpy Old Men! Really! Rent that very funny movie, and you'll see what I mean!

Besides the personal and historical material, Dabrielle offers examples of ritual procedure, a mytho-history of the Venusian idea, some lovely description of the Three Graces (considered by some to be daughters of Aphrodite and ideal models for us) and the Oreads, mountain nymphs (who gift Aphrodite with unpolished gems and wildflowers, appealing to Her wilder side). She previews a book she's working on which should please potential lesbian and bisexual fans of The Goddess who might otherwise wonder what all of this has to do with them.

Dabrielle also lists and translates numerous names for Aphrodite, breathtaking in their diversity. Some of them are:

* Eurynome: Creatress who rose from Chaos and danced all creation into being
* Moira: Fate
* Ambologera: Postponer of Old Age
* Chrysheie: Radiant Like Gold
* Euploios: Fair Voyage
* Praxis: Action
* Epitymbria: She of The Tombs
* Callipygos: Beautiful Buttocks

and the inevitable

* Porne: Goddess of Lust and Patroness of Prostitutes

The message of Aphrodite meditations and rituals seems always to be thus: Find beauty within oneself and love it fiercely. I certainly can't argue with that!

You can find In Her Service on Amazon.com.

(c)2008, Eva Yaa Asantewaa
1:06 pm | link

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sarah Avery's
"Closing Arguments"
a novel by Sarah Avery
Drollerie Press, 2008
114pp. E-Book
http://drolleriepress.com

Well, what would you do if you were a couple of Wiccan-oriented siblings, and you discovered that your deceased Theosophist parents had been living among a clutter of household toiletries (enough to fill a mall) and stolen art, and they communicated with you, incessantly and insistently, from the Great Beyond via a snowstorm of Post-It Notes? Huh? Well, I don't know either, but if you're at all curious about how Bob and Sophie Baines handled it--and have patience--you can follow them through their wacky journey of discovery, all the way to a realm of multiple post-life existences.

You won't understand the title of Sarah Avery's cleverly-conceived and executed--yet strangely unaffecting--"Closing Arguments" until the slam-bang showdown at the end. But here's my verdict: While I was amused by the Post-It gambit (at least, at first) and the winking references to Madame Blavatsky being celebrated in songs with bawdy lyrics (none of them shared with us, unfortunately), I'm disappointed that this novel doesn't really take off until its final scenes. Nor does it pass my standard and ultimate challenge: Make me care. Avery's publisher--Drollerie Press--describes itself as specializing in "quality transformative fiction celebrating myths, legends, and fairytales." But for each of those forms of story, readers or listeners must become interested and invested in the fortunes of the lead character(s). That did not happen for me here.

In the last 15 or so pages--past some distracting soap opera stuff about substance abuse and domestic violence--the book bursts into life and actually becomes more grandly mythic. We finally learn what the heck's behind the story's central mystery, and we meet a villain who should be played by Jack Nicholson--and, hence, given a lot more screen time--if Avery's book is ever grabbed up by Hollywood.

Yes, Nicholson in "Closing Arguments." I could certainly see that, and the story has plenty of sophisticated dialogue and lots of visual elements that make it a good choice for adaptation to a movie. But the character thing? Make me care.
9:11 am | link


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