The other Reverend’s father-in-law died around the same time that both my grandfathers died. Their whole family came to our funerals, so, of course, we went up to theirs.
I don’t remember the funeral itself, just that we spent a lot of time left to our own devices at the church and then at Mark & Danny’s grandma’s house. We spent a long time making elaborate designs in the side yard with river rocks that were piled near the fence.
I have one of those rocks, still–a gray stone with off-white squiggles running through it that fits right in the palm of my hand. There’s a natural groove in the stone that a girl’s thumb can rub against as it sits in her left coat pocket, which is where this rock sat, through most of junior high and all of high school*.
I carried it around with me to remind me of the four boys that love me. I keep it on my dresser now and I think of them–my brothers in the deepest sense of the word–and the men they’ve become.
I’ve been thinking about Mary Winkler. I’ve been thinking about when I became a feminist. For me, it was intrinsically bound up with leaving the church. Probably, it started with Sophia and Barbara Walker.
Barbara Walker put together The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets which is one of those books that drives real scholars mad, because it’s so terribly inaccurate and yet young feminists and young pagans love it because it promotes this idea that there’s some giant male, Christian conspiracy to erase the one true Goddess from history, but that traces of her still linger everywhere and, if only you know how to read the clues, her ongoing worship throughout history is apparent.
This book, like The Catcher in the Rye is only good during a small window in a person’s development, and if they don’t find it then, they aren’t ever going to get what the hubbub was about. I read it now, with a little more scholarly grounding than I had when I was twenty and I cringe. But back then? It meant a lot to me.
Let me explain. I grew up in your standard Methodist church. Women had leadership positions and participated in all aspects of worship. Still, they taught the standard party line–that Eve ruined everything for all of us, especially us girls, and that’s why our lives weren’t ever going to be that great.
But Walker? Walker says:
The original Eve had no spouse except the serpent, a living phallus she created for her own sexual pleasure. Some ancient peoples regarded the Goddess and her serpent as their first parents. Sacred icons showed the Goddess giving life to a man, while her serpent coiled around the apple tree behind her. (p. 288)
And Walker has footnotes!
Then, check this creation myth out:
A Gnostic creation myth said Sophia was born from the primordial female power Sige (Silence). Sophia gave birth to a male spirit, Christ, and a female spirit, Achamoth. […] Ildabaoth or Jehovah forbade men to eat the fruit of knowledge, but his mother Achamoth sent her own spirit to earth in the form of the serpent Ophis to teach men to disobey the jealous god. (p. 951)
And this entry features some Bible verses. Now, I didn’t have Gnostic scriptures, but I had a Bible or two.
And so I turned to Proverbs. And I read "Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares" (Proverbs 1:20) and, more shocking to me
The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works before his deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. (Proverbs 8:22-31) [Emphasis mine.]
It didn’t sound like a metaphor to me–Wisdom. It sounded like a first-person account from someone who had been there. And, even though I ended up outgrowing Walker, I couldn’t unknow this–that one of the earliest things God brought forth was Wisdom, before creation, even, God created a female force in the universe, who was "the craftsman at his side." How else are you supposed to read that, but that she was helping to shape creation, that she had her hands in it? And that she was loving it? And that her contribution was invaluable?
This, my friends, is a much different story than poor Eve, the helpmate who can’t help but fuck up. This is a story a girl can live with, can breathe in, can grow into.
Who was with God at the beginning of creation? Wisdom. And Wisdom is a woman.
Anyway, Mary Winkler. I don’t know what was going on there. But I know a lot about minister’s wives. I’ve watched them all my life. And I know they very rarely, if ever, are encouraged to take Wisdom as their model, but instead are almost constantly reminded of the weakness of Eve, and how, no matter how hard they try, they’re going to fuck it up for the rest of us.
*You’d think that doing weird shit like this would make me feel more amenable to Beckett’s Molloy, but it does not.