The Velvet Chamber
An Anthology of Revisioned Myth and Fairy Tale

Explore the dark side of the female psyche --A CALL FOR WRITERS supports The Velvet Chamber

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Interpretation of Fairy Tales

"We must begin by asking why in Jungian psychology we are interested in myths and fairy tales.  Dr. Jung once said that it is in fairy tales that one can best study the comparative anatomy of the psyche.  In myths or legends, we get at the basic patterns of the human psyche through a lot of cultural material.  But in fairy tales there is much less specific cultural consciousness material, and therefore they mirror the basic patterns of the psyche more clearly."

---Marie-Louise von Franz, The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Virgin Whore or Bring me the head of John the Baptist

"Artists and intellectuals of the nineteenth century interpreted the Biblical story of Salome in different manners. While mid-century artists pointed to the innocence of Salome and the guilt of her mother Herodias, the fin de si├Ęcle became obsessed with the image of Salome as what Bram Dijkstra calls “the virgin whore.” The blame for John the Baptist’s decapitation shifted entirely to Salome and she became a symbol of feminine evil and bloodthirsty lust." 

From The Victorian Web

Salome is also one of the three women who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ in The New Testament.  The Hebrew meaning of her name is Peace.  It appears that this might be another example of a truncated feminine archetype; like Hecate or Medea, where as a culture we've lost her complexity and instead are left with binary oppositions, virgin/whore.

Image: Pierre Bonnaud, b. 1865

Mary of Ishtar

This is the story of Mary of Ishtar--- known as the Mother of God in your book. But the woman I knew is far different from yours. I know this because I lived it. The real story is that Mary of Ishtar, known as the Mother of God, was a warrior goddess.  She actively courted giving birth to a holy man, a god. She wanted this very badly. Think of the story of Leda and the Swan, but in reverse. Joseph, merely her consort, chosen for his strength and his kind heart, chosen because he was malleable, a common man, a carpenter. Chosen and then abandoned when he became superfluous. This is not to say that he wasn’t a good or gracious because he was all of these things, but he was also not very bright.  Mary of Ishtar had bigger plans.


Monday, May 24, 2010

I am Snow White: Part 6

Read Part Five.

Nothing happened that night, or the next. No dark strangers, no visions, no fits.  On the third day, letting down my guard, I took the girl to watch Harry look after the horses. It was a brilliant morning, the sun directly overhead. The air was fresh. First, he rode the chestnut mare with the white star on her forehead. Her coat shone like silk in the morning light. Then he rode the Duke's stallion, still ferocious, as if he might live forever--- unlike the Duke, may he rot in peace. The girl quietly watched until she turned to me and said,

"I'll not steal your lover anymore."

I smiled, almost accustomed to her strangeness, and asked, "And why is that, pray tell?"

"Mother sends word that now only the devil has use for me. I am to wait for him in the grove at midnight. And you are to do the same."

"Snow White, listen to me. That is not real. Dreams are not real. This pasture is real," I said, pointing to the two colts, prancing unsteadily in the fied, "I am real. Harry is real. These trees, this sunlight, this day is real. You are not beholden to a devil. And neither am I."

She remained stubbornly silent, and in that moment, I started to doubt my words to her, that my reassurances were hollow, that I might have to leave the castle, the title, the riches, all that I possessed. That I might have to flee in the middle of the night, with nothing but the clothes on my back, and a sackful of jewels. Esmerelda toting the silver and the china, my emerald velvet cloak spotted with mud, as we traveled from town to town. I would return back to who I was, so many years ago--- the daughter of a mother who sold me, and the grandmother who burned as witch.

Snow White ran off to ride her favorite horse, and  I wandered over to the orchard, despite the girl's feverish warning. Yet I could sense nothing malovelent. Blossoms from the apple trees, scattered in the wind, rained down upon my head like snow. I could hear a nearby brook coursing over rocks, a whipporwill sang in the trees. Again, was this not real? A large brown hare poked its nose out of hedge, wriggling its pink nose. We he not real? Would he not be delicious braised in red wine? Was not that my castle to the west, hewn from granite, with stable and cemetary, chapel and orchard.

I resolved that when the girl returned to her people, and if I held onto my wealth, I would travel south to a warmer climate. I would sit by the sea in an ancient city of tall stone buildings. A city far, far away. The land of sirens, history, and golden light. This thought cheered me as the sky darkened and it began to rain. There is something to be said, perhaps a story to be written, about the lies we tell ourselves so that we may survive. Later that day, the rain still spattering against the windows, she was unsually subdued at dinner. I teased her,

"I thought you were fond of the game hens. Yet you've not touched a bite."

"--- he's here, she mumbled."

My spoon of broth mid-air, I asked, "Who?"

But she did not answer. I could see she was having another fit.  But this time, I believed her. I sent her to her chambers, and made sure the servants double locked the doors, barred all the windows;

"Do not forget," I called out anxiously, "to use the iron chains for the cellar doors. And the side door off the pantry?  For the tradesmen?  You know it?" 

They all looked at me--- a small army in their starched white garments, fear illuminating their faces, hands trembling ever so slightly, nonetheless all nodded yes.

"Good.  Use two locks, not three!"

As if this could keep out the devil.

Here is my best recollection of what happened that night:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How she went crazy

"Culture is male.  Our literary myths are for heroes, not heroines...Hemingway spent his whole working life capitalizing on the dramatic lucidity possible to an artist who works with developed myths...But this kind of larger than life simplicity and clarity are not accessible to the woman writer unless she remains within the limits of How She Fell in Love or How She Went Crazy."

-- Joanna Russ, "What Can a Heroine Do? Or Why Women Can't Write."


Sunday, May 16, 2010

A siren song

The first known mermaid stories appeared in Assyria, ca. 1000 BC. Atargatis, the mother of Assyrian queen Semiramis, was a goddess who loved a mortal shepherd and in the process she accidentally killed him. Ashamed, she jumped into a lake to take the form of a fish, but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. Thereafter, she took the form of a mermaid; human above the waist, fish below. In other versions of the myth, the seal wife, called a selkie, marries a mortal man but always yearns for her home in the sea.  She is exiled on earth.  Her husband has hidden her pelt--- but after many years, and several children, when his guard is down, she finally finds it. She wraps it around her mortal body and jumps into the sea. She leaves behind her family and descends down into the water, Queen of the Underworld, Neptune's daughter--- some say she still lures men to a watery grave, but, at least, she says, I am home again.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Our Lady of Lava. Guest post by Donna Henes, Urban Shaman

A huge proportion of the world's people are living in the vicinity of a volcano. Waiting for the second shoe to drop, as it were. Always aware of danger. Under the constant threat of fire — an uneasy truce at best. It must be like living with an abusive parent or spouse. Never knowing when they might just go off. Knowing you can't control the situation. Yet not wanting to leave because of love, loyalty, tradition, lack of support, procrastination, a thousand reasons. Pretty scary to contemplate. Conciliation might seem the only protection.

Fire, out of fear, out of deference, is always treated with utmost respect. And the deities who personify a fickle, fiery omnipotence inspire worship of particular passion, for the smallest lapse of attentive reverence could result in wretched disaster. There is clear understanding that She who grants life could also, at the slightest whim, take it away again. Better not to take any chances of incurring the flaming wrath.

Pele, the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess, is notorious for Her capricious temper. Her lusts and desires are enormous and Her sexual appetite is legendary. She is said to appear in the form of a beautiful woman right before an eruption. She likes to pick up sailors. Any rejection or imagined slight infuriates Her. So special care is taken to appease Her. One walks very carefully around Lady Pele. You don't mess with Mama Lava. You really don't want to upset Her. When She is pleased, She rewards you with life in paradise. And if She's pissed she blows her top.

Alas, there's no stay to the smoke
I must die mid the quenchless flame

Deed of the hag who snores in her sleep,

Bedded on lava plate oven-hot.

--- The Saga of Pele
The priestesses who served Pele wore robes whose hems and sleeves had been singed in a fire, and they carried digging sticks, which represented the sturdy digging stick which Pele employed to create the volcanic craters. Pigs used to be offered to Her, and the songs and dances of the hula. Today practitioners of the old religion still bring Her gifts of flowers, incense, the Ohelo berries which She loves, and, of course gin or a bottle of brandy.

The worship of Pele has been discouraged since the early Nineteenth Century when the Hawaiian Queen Kaahumanu converted to Christianity. Later, in a public display, Kapiolani, the woman chief of the Puna District, challenged Pele to punish her. She taunted the goddess by throwing rocks into the sacred crater. Her answer was an eruption of Mouna Loa. Luckily all the old lore was not lost.

Princess Ruth Keelikolani, who was sixty-three years old at the time, climbed to the edge of the threatening lava flow. She bore gifts of silk and brandy, and was, most importantly, able to offer the ancient chants of obeisance to placate Pele. The disturbances stopped the very next day, saving the town of Hilo. When the village of Kapoho was jeopardized in 1955, people offered food and tobacco to the smoking mountain with the same results. The lava stream stopped the next day before doing any damage.

Every year the National Park Service is inundated with packages containing small bits of rock and volcanic glass accompanied by a plea to the rangers to return them to their proper place — Mount Kilauea, the dwelling place and seat of power of Lady Pele. These souvenirs had been taken by hapless tourists who either became racked with guilt and foreboding, or had suffered a series of calamities which they grew to attribute to the punishing fury of Pele. One such anguished note reads, "Five years later, ten car accidents later, two unsuccessful business ventures later and twice broken heart later, I admit the place for the enclosed rock of lava is there where it belongs."

Pele's capricious counterparts, the Flaming Furies, the Volcanic Valkyries of other cultures, portray almost identical attributes, and their ceremonies, too, are similar. She is Fuji who sits on Her mountain throne, Fujiyama, on the Japanese main Island of Honshu. She is the Goddess Apo Namallari who rules Mount Pinituba in the Philippines. To the Maori people of New Zealand, She is the goddess Mahuea, She Who Keeps Fire in Her Fingertips. And to the Aztecs, She is Coatlicue, Mother of All Deities, Lady of the Lava Altar.

Her name is Hel, Hella, Holla, in Northern Europe and Scandinavia, namesake of the Icelandic volcano, Mt. Hekla and its nearby town, Hella. From Her name we also get the root words for holy, heal, hallow, hello, whole, all, halo and holly. She is associated with both the healing hearth fire and the burning fires of the underworld. A split personality writ large, like all of Her sisters — the beautiful princess and the ugly old witch. The nun and the whore. The bimbo and the brain. The damsel and the dyke. (Yike!) Two peas in the same pod. Smooth when stroked. Stormy when provoked. Siamese twin soul sisters joined at the heart.

Our Lady of Lava has been trying to get our attention lately. Trying to tell us something extremely important. She is gesticulating desperately. Her temper's shot. Her nerves are raw. Her fury is boiling over. She's furious, overwrought with exhaustion from Her urgent production of enough ash to create enough cloud cover to lower the earth's temperature enough and in enough time to counteract the coming green house effect.

Perhaps it's time to listen.

Mama Donna Henes is an internationally renowned urban shaman, eco-ceremonialist, ritual expert, spiritual counselor, award-winning author, popular speaker and workshop leader. She currently writes for the Huffington Post, Beliefnet and UPI Religion and Spirituality Forum.



Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Letter from the Editor

Hello fans of The Velvet Chamber: 

I've added a widget at the bottom of the blog to make it easier to follow. I realized that not everyone is on Facebook or Google Friend Connect.   Let me know you're out there.  In the few short months since I've launched this book project, I've been thrilled by the responses to the blog and thrilled also by the quality of the submissions, but want to hear more of your voices.

Going forward, I would also like to publish quality work from other writers on these pages.  Please submit work for the blog; it doesn't mean it won't be considered for the book.  On the contrary, it could actually help. Finally your comments and suggestions are welcome.

All best, LAS

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pop Culture Transgressions

Special thanks to Pop Culture Transgressions for the opportunity to guest blog on their site.  I wrote:

"Finally, Quentin Tarantino is a personal hero. I love his mash-up of anime, mangaka and spaghetti westerns in Kill Bill. His Bride is a mythical protagonist who doesn’t give a shit about finding her man. This bitch is out for revenge. The Velvet Chamber welcomes mash-ups, flash fiction, mangaka, as well as speculative, post-apocalyptic, classical and mythical interpretations— whatever the style or genre, we begin to see female archetypes through another lens. With a different narrative. Medea is a priestess and a murderer, but we haven’t really heard that story. Ashputtel, the original version of Cinderella, is a filthy, bloody little girl, but on Broadway, she’s a princess."

The Virgin Bride: Flash Fiction

An angel in her white dress and long veil, the pearls around her alabaster neck. Her voice, almost a whisper,

"I do," she said.

But she didn’t look up at him when she said it. He should’ve known better. This is why he’s walking the streets of her hometown in the middle of the night. Too skittish for sex, so he left in frustration, she in tears. He sighs, looks up, and sees that somehow, he’s back at the church.

Of course. He’s back where he started.

He gets up, crosses the street, stands in front of the carved mahogany doors; it is a scene from the Ascension. The Blessed Mary, rising up into heaven. Already she is transformed. He is a stranger here as well. What does she want from him? His new young wife? He is just a man who fell in love with a girl. Who did the right thing; waited, sought release in the arms of high-heeled women. This is what his father told him. This is what his mother told him. So why is he here, alone, on his wedding night?

He tries the door and is surprised to find it is open. Once inside, he automatically dips his finger into the holy water and blesses himself. It’s dark, but attenuated yellow light spills onto the altar from the sacristy. He sees several wedding bouquets still up there. They are his flowers, from his wedding, and he wants one. Defiantly he walks the length of the church, towards the altar. But what is that? Out of the corner of his eye, he sees movement, looks around, slightly panicked.

No, he reassures himself, I am alone. I am the only person awake in this godforsaken town. He continues walking up the aisle, his heels striking the marble floor, echoing. He can smell the wooden benches, the incense, the religion. He stops to pick up a stray bloom on a pew, stands up again, and sees her. Instead of a statue, the Virgin Mary, it is now a beautiful woman. She is smiling at him. 

He freezes. He cannot move a muscle. But its not fear that paralyzes him, it is desire. She walks as if she has just stepped out of a cloud, tall and proud. She pulls a blossom from around her waist and affixes it in her hair. She has red lips, she is not human, and she is getting closer. His mouth is dry.

When she finally reaches him, she caresses his mouth with her index finger,

“The groom?,” she asks, smiling.

“Yes,” he replies.

“Take off your pants,” she says.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

She has the last laugh

Cassandra.  Tragic and beautiful.  Adored by Apollo who gave her the gift of prophecy.  When he tried to seduce her, she rebelled, said, "No, I've changed my mind."   Apollo was pissed.  Tricked by a woman, a mere mortal.  He couldn't take away her gift, so he added a twist, "No one will ever believe you."  Thus the most gifted seer in the western hemisphere was mocked and shunned.  People said, "She's crazy."  She's a madwoman ripping at her clothes.  Laughed at.  So the story goes. Yet, she has the last laugh when every single one of her prophecies come true.  She is the woman who no one listens to, yet she is the only one telling the truth.  It is a familiar conundrum.

Image: Anthony Frederick Sandys, English Pre-Raphaelite.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Persephone mourning Demeter

What if the roles were reversed and Persephone descends into Hades, searching for her mother, Demeter?  What if she finds her,  contentedly sipping red wine and eating pomegranate seeds.  Nonplussed.  She approaches her and says, "Mom, come home."  And Demeter replies, "I'm not coming home.  Ever." What happens to her then?

Image: Evelyn Pickering De Morgan. English Pre-Raphaelite painter. 1850 -1919

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I dreamt he cut out my heart

I dreamt a foreign born god cut off my head, my legs, my arms. I dreamt he cut out my heart.  After he had finished butchering my body, he scattered the pieces to the four corners of the earth.  After my resurrection, I didn't recognize myself.  After my resurrection, I realized it hadn't been a dream.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Truck Stop Cinderella

Orignally published in Dirty Girls,
edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, Seal Press, 2008

Gracie Angelique DuBois drove to work that morning with the top down on her baby blue convertible, taking the country highway instead of the interchange, and singing along to Love to Love You Baby at the top of her lungs. It was the beginning of a fine summer day, the sun just beginning its slow ascent over the ridges of the mountains. She was sure this was going to be her last summer slinging hash at Riddley's Truck Stop on Route 27. She knew she was meant for better things. The fact is that Gracie Angelique DuBois had all kinds of dreams; cosmetology, modeling or even cocktail waitressing at a fancy bar in New York or L.A.

In the meantime, she always wore her tightest jeans to work, and her white high heels --- even though like Cinderella, she often went home barefoot because her feet hurt so bad. She did a survey once; she wore sneakers during a shift and averaged $15.00 an hour, but when she wore high heels, she averaged $25.00 an hour. It was hard to argue with the economics of that equation. Sex appeal and high heels provided a roof over her head. Gracie wasn't a stupid woman, she knew she was considered trailer trash, but she wore that as a badge of honor. Held her head high. Her mama and her mama's mama were trailer trash. But honestly there wasn't anything trashy about her trailer. She had real wood floors, glass bookcases and bright yellow curtains on the tiny windows that she had sewn herself. She got the idea from a magazine, using pillowcases and brass rings, and she thought, now isn't that clever. Her bed was covered with pink satin pillows with tiny bows across the front, and on her fake white marble night table was a crystal lamp and pictures of her mama and her mama’s mama. Gavin, her last lover, said, "Damn Gracie, all you women are sexy.”

She laughed out loud at this--- Gavin McFitch was slight, very shy, with cornflower blue eyes, but his cock was a monster. He couldn't kiss, and he didn't eat pussy, but Lord, she didn't care. She pulled herself together as she turned left into the parking lot of the truck stop. No sense thinking those kinds of thoughts now, not before she began her shift. Gracie was a true professional, and although it was a fact that every man in the diner dreamt of fucking her, she would never allow it because it gave her an edge. Again, it was hard to argue with the economics of all those men who came back to the diner again and again, always hoping for a chance.

Grace adjusted the straps on her blue silk brassiere in the car, were her boobs getting bigger? She hoped so. Her nipples were certainly erect. She scanned the parking lot and saw that all her regulars were there. The big rig over in the south corner of the lot belonged to Vinnie, a long haul trucker from New Jersey who liked his burgers rare and his coffee lukewarm. To the right, was a rig from North Dakota--- Timmy was a strange man, but his biceps were girl heaven. Despite her very strict rules, she often found herself fantasizing about running her tongue--- oh, never mind. Timmy was a nice man with a nice wife. She smiled when she saw Gus's beat up Lincoln Continental. He was an old timer who lived ten miles down the road in a tiny little town called Possum. She just loved his crinkly brown eyes, sometimes they made her melt. Yes, all her boys were here today.

Click here to finish

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Queen of Ghosts

Hecate or Hekat, originally a goddess of the wilderness and childbirth--- is a liminal woman, defying definition, not part of the original Greek pantheon.  Hesiod says she's another incarnation of a moon goddess. Two versions appear later in Greek mythology: an avenging woman, similar to Nemesis, and "The Queen of Ghosts" because her image was placed in triplicate at three-way crossroads, guarding the borders between the living and the dead.

However, like many women during the Medieval period she developed a very bad reputation among Christians.  She became a witch, a bitch, attended by dogs, bats and the devil.  A woman to be feared, often compared to Lilith and the Whore of Babylon.  Now said to haunt graveyards by the light of a full moon, but once upon a time, she says, I was your mother.