I’ve been thinking lately about Zora Neale Hurston, laying naked on a couch in New Orleans. Maybe she has one sock on, one eye open. But she’s been there for days, not eating, not sleeping, not talking. Just waiting.
How can you not love her for that?
When Hurston was a girl, according to her biography, she loved the myth of Odin, sacrificing himself on the world tree for knowledge. “I know I hung from the windy tree,” he says, “nine whole nights. Stabbed in the side, an offering to Odin, myself given to myself. Hung from the tree whose roots remain hidden.”
That’s one thing that I love about Odin, his willingness to admit that there are things that even he, the Allfather, doesn’t know. Even he doesn’t know how deep the roots of Yggsdrasil run. The other thing I love about him is that he’s always trying to understand what women know, not just divine women, but human women. Women have knowledge and insight important to him and if he has to drag us out of the grave to get it, he will.
It’s not to say that the people that worshipped Odin then were great feminists or even that the people who honor him now are. It’s not even to say that Odin is some great champion of women. It’s to say that there’s something deeply, deeply unsettling about a god–especially one as central as Odin–who respects women’s knowledge.
And that being unsettled by that is a powerful thing.
When I imagine Hurston on the couch, it’s impossible for me not to think of Odin–the god who must know, no matter what the cost. Because Hurston is on the couch in order to know, to see for herself.
It isn’t enough for her to interview voodoo priests and observe rituals. Hurston has to get in there. She has to see for herself. If she has a question for Papa Legba, she’s going to ask him to his face.
That’s something, folks. That’s a Holiness we don’t understand very well. We leave it to the priests and the ministers and the theologians to tell us about our gods.
We’re afraid to go see for ourselves. We don’t want to ask a question and get slapped down for being impertinent–god works in mysterious ways; we can’t know why things happen; we just have to trust in god’s plan. But more than that, we don’t want to get an answer.
We don’t want to be crazy. We don’t want to be unsettled. We don’t want to have to rearrange our lives to make room for something that answers back.
But I wonder what it’d be like if we did.