Generally, I juggle several books at a time and usually make one of them a novel. Not a hard, gritty realism-under-your-nails novel, which makes you lock the bathroom door and sob heartily on the toilet for the exceeding injustice of human life, but a fun novel.
“Fun novels” are, in my book, science fiction, fantasy or a particular kind of unrealistic historical fiction that has whiffs of The Mists of Avalon. With that latter category in mind, I picked up Jules Watson’s The White Mare. It reeks strongly of the patchouli-scented shores of modern Pagan Avalon, even though it’s set in ancient Scotland. It’s decently well-written, although I flinch somewhat at the depictions of the “evil” characters. You can picture them twirling mustaches, rubbing their palms together in frantic delight and twittering “I’m so eeeeevil!” with a gleam in their jaundiced little eyes.
Personally, I prefer my evil to be of the more nuanced kind, but hey, it’s a fun read.
Even fun reads, however, can be enlightening, as speculative fiction often lends itself to thought experiment. In Jules Watson’s land of the Epidii, a place where the mix of Gods and languages makes absolutely no historical sense, the druids are eeeeevil, the all-male worshipers of the gods (little G) of spear and slaughter. The priestesses aren’t druids, but something higher: worshipers of the Great Goddess (big G), the holy Mother, of whom all goddesses are part.
Somehow, this is supposed to be more spiritually enlightened and liberating to me as a woman, this double-big-G super-mommy. It is, sadly, one of the great annoyances I have with this novel, a bit of sand in the eye. (Well, that and the switching between Welsh and Gaelic gods and languages, as if they were equivalents.)
Overall, I have never understood why monotheism was held to be the most spiritually enlightened form of belief. Perhaps it’s seeking some version of the “single unified theory” of physics? In truth, however, it finds this single unified theory by denying, persecuting and finally slaughtering those who follow all other theories, as if to say: “See, we’re the only ones left! We must be the right way.”
My friend Leila shared a quote on Facebook by Asatru priest Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson that I find particularly revealing: “Monotheism is one truth for the masses, but polytheism is many truths for the individual.” And that’s it, precisely. Constantine was never a Christian in his lifetime, but his vision of the cross with the words In hoc signo vinces is telling. You can conquer with the cross because monotheism forces cultures into a single expression, dividing the world into Us and Other. You can drive out other philosophies, other perceptions and other gods using it as a whip, a sword, a pyre.
E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. And the monotheistic god won’t permit you to live unmolested if you instead decide to remain among the many, or the different. Monotheism is quite possibly the best means of controlling the masses prior to the development of modern nationalism.
You don’t get that with polytheism; you can’t. There is a reason why dealing with Pagans is considered parallel to herding cats. There are always many Gods, many views, many paths. You may have to bow to the divine emperor, but no one gives a whit whether you really believe Caesar is divine; it’s the actions — and the payment of taxes, in Caesar’s case — that truly matter.
Considering Watson’s Goddess-centered monotheism, I can’t help but feel slightly affronted. If the measure of divinity is Mother, what does it say to women who are not mothers? Like the father-god of Western monotheism, this is a paradigm that has no place for someone like me. Perhaps it’s a kinder, gentler monotheism, but still monotheism with all of its flaws.
As I read Watson’s book, I find myself rooting for the eeeeevil Druid, Gelert. His polytheistic practices are probably less dangerous, overall, to the psychological freedom of his people than those of the rather emo priestess/princess, Rhian. His over-the-top caricatured evil may be campy, but I find him to be considerably less annoying than emo girl. In fact, if Watson didn’t consistently speak Gelert’s eeeeeevil campy thoughts, he wouldn’t come off as evil at all; he’d be seen as a politically savvy protector of his people.
Go team Gelert.