CrossCurrents: The CIIS Blog “An Evening With Mary Mackey"
A Women's Spirituality Visionary Talks About Her Work
Am I singing of the Goddess Earth
or my love who sleeps here beside
Of both, I sing of both...
I am singing of the vast seas
of your journeys
and the infinite ocean of Her love
Such is the stirring, ecofeminist invocation that opens The Village of the Bones: Sabalah's Tale by New York Times bestselling author Mary Mackey, the Women's Spirituality Program's (WSE) most recent guest in its Spring Speaker Series, co-sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
The Village of the Bones is the prequel to Mackey's Earthsong Series, in which she fictionalizes Old Europe, where goddess-worshiping matri-cultures peacefully thrived for thousands of years before patriarchy—a theme she explored in conversation with Dr. Mara Keller, core faculty in the WSE Program.
A Different History
Mackey, an adjunct professor in the Women's Spirituality Program and Professor Emeritus at California State, Sacramento (not to mention a co-founder of the CSUS Women's Studies and Graduate Creative Writing Programs), took inspiration for the Earthsong Series from the work of archaeomythologist Dr. Marjia Gimbutas, whose revolutionary books on the goddesses of Old Europe, Civilization of the Goddess, reveal a flourishing Neolithic culture in Old Europe that predated "civilization," long defined by academia in androcentric terms—that is, structured around hierarchy, city-states, and war.
Gimbutas' work reveals an entirely different history than the one we know, a non-hierarchical, gynocentric culture of art and abundance, devoid of weapons of war. By vividly fictionalizing the time and place of Gimbutas' oeuvre, Mackey leads readers into a richly imagined realm suffused with beauty and human reverence for all living beings and Earth itself. This world, or "Motherlands," is threatened by encroaching violence at the hands of invading nomadic horsemen who worship a male sky god, the repercussions of which are continually borne out in present-day interlocking systems of oppression, a foundational area of research and scholarship in Women's Spirituality.
"In Old Europe, people associated the color black with life, or the soil of Mother Earth, while they associated white with death, the color of bones," according to Mackey. "The invaders, who worshiped a male sky-god, inverted these associations, which we're left with today." In a brilliant inversion of her own, Mackey portrays her characters' sexual relationships as rooted in mutual respect, love, and pleasure, which she calls "sharing joy"or "making out"—and not necessarily with penetration, a delicious antidote to the all-too-often phallocentric portrayals of sex permeating dominant culture today.
Mackey has published not only historical fiction but also romance and comedy-a whopping fourteen novels in all-as well as seven volumes of poetry, screenplays, and won awards including the O'Henry Award, the Pushcart Prize, and the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. When asked about her writing process, Mackey described how she captures ideas by harnessing a creative trance state. The technique, which she's practiced and perfected over many years, hinges on entering a liminal space and mining the unconscious for metaphor, plots, and dreams. She uses the wide-awake state to hone, revise, and polish what she's gleaned.
Sound daunting? Rest assured: "No writer writes alone," Mackey reminds us. "We are all influenced by those who came before us and those who we imagine will come after us," a truth that reflects the core values of Women's Spirituality, which stresses the imperative of acknowledging and raising up our ancestors, as well as those in our community and the generations to come.
Storytelling Magic and Apple Pie
Mackey's story of working with the late Gimbutas exemplifies the vital act of raising one another up. Gimbutas described Mackey's work as "a researcher's precision combined with storytelling magic." It didn't hurt, Mackey added, that at their first meeting, Gimbutas greeted her with a freshly-baked, homemade apple pie, a reminder that it is through nourishing each other in a myriad of ways that we fortify our community and redouble our joy, palpably embodying our vision for a post-patriarchal world.
Kris Malone Grossman earned a BA in English from UC Berkeley and MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and is a PhD student in the Women's Spirituality Program at CIIS. Her essays have been anthologized in Dirt is Good for You and The Maternal Is Political: Women Writers at the Intersection of Motherhood and Social Change, and her work was recently sponsored by 100 Days Action, a calendar of activist and artistic strategy.
Learn more about Mary Mackey.