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This morning, I took part in a Unitarian Universalist summer service. In my talk, I reflected on The Egyptian Cat Goddess the Goddess Bastet (a part of my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery) and on the spiritual practice of gardening.

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

 

 

In the summer, I garden.  This is a common hobby for many, especially writers.  It teaches patience, attention, and relentless hope.  Not everything that we plant comes back – especially after a long icy winter.  Not every seed sprouts and not every sprout makes it.  In this way it makes me focus on the positive – on what does come back and on what does sprout.

Being a Unitarian Universalist gives me a spiritual context in which to think about gardening. Many of our flowers attract bees – such as bee balm, lavender and the butterfly bush. And bees, of course, are good for the planet.

Every now and then, a plant from my writing appears in my garden – seemingly out of nowhere but probably from a seed dropped by a bird.  Last year it was a tall flowering weed known as a “sow’s ear” which was also in the manuscript I just finished writing, titled The Unicorn, The Mystery which is set in the 1500s in France.  I was amazed, of course, at the sow’s ear in my backyard.

Recently, I planted catnip.  Cats love our backyard and often we see one sleeping there – most often in the shade of the young hazel nut tree that my partner’s sister sent us. Inside, my office looks out to the backyard where the garden is. Our old cat Felix has taken to sleeping on the inside back windowsill – no doubt protecting his territory.

godess bastet threeI have long been fascinated by the Egyptian Cat Goddess Bastet. In my novel, The Unicorn, The Mystery, my monk character (who in many ways is a Unitarian Universalist at heart) prays to the Goddess Bastet.

 

I stepped slowly and softly as if the soles of my feet had ears.  I took another step. A branch snapped under my foot.  I winced. That would never do.  If my beloved unicorn heard that she would assume there was a human nearby – big enough to snap a branch under foot – and hide.  It seemed like I would never find her.  I decided to pray.  But I had prayed to the One God before and it hadn’t worked.  Who would I pray to? Who would help me?

Immediately, the Goddess Bastet leapt to mind. Bastet was an Egyptian Goddess who was half woman and half cat. I knew about her because when I was a boy, my mother would tell me the stories that her father had told her.  He had loved Greek mythology and found out that the Goddess Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, was related to the earlier Goddess Bastet from Egypt who came from the even earlier fierce lioness Goddess Bast, the warrior goddess of the sun.

The followers of Bastet ruled ancient Egypt for a time in the land where cats were sacred.  I remember that my mother’s emerald green eyes gleamed as if she were a cat herself when she told me about the Goddess Bastet who kept away disease and was the protector of pregnant women. The stories she told me about the fierce, soft, cat Goddess Bastet were so vivid that she made me want a cat for my very own pet.

My mother cautioned me, however, not to mention cats to anyone but her. People with cats were looked on with suspicion, she warned me. For some reason cats were looked down on by the Church as wily creatures associated with Satan. Again, my mother told me that it was very important never to anger the Church.

Surely, the Goddess Bastet would help me find my beloved unicorn. She of all the gods and goddesses would understand why I had to find my beloved unicorn to save her.

I closed my eyes tightly until I saw a slim woman, standing tall.  She had very good posture, with the head of a cat.  I knew it was Goddess Bastet, just as my mother had described her.

 

 

And so, the Goddess Bastet and other worlds – real, imagined and both – is something for me to mull over as I tend the soil and do the spiritual work of gardening.

 

Namaste

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.
Amazon THEY
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This morning, I led a Unitarian Universalist Memorial Day service on the topic of forgiveness.  In my talk about forgiveness, I debuted my latest novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. The YouTube video of part of  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

 

 

For me, forgiveness is a thorny issue.  I suspect I’m not alone.  I may forgive – but I do it on my own terms and this means taking the time that I need to understand the deeper reasons of why I was offended by someone’s actions. So, for me, learning to be more forgiving is wrapped up with protecting myself and having good boundaries.

As a practicing Buddhist, I understand that forgiving others is a way of forgiving yourself.  But as I did research on forgiveness, there were so many conflicting theories, that really the only thing that ultimately made coherent sense to me was this quote from Oscar Wilde:

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

A few years ago, I was leafing through a slim book on Christianity and was surprised to read that forgiveness is expected in the Christian tradition.  As a tenet, this one is not so bad. But it did occur to me that a reason why traditional religion has never appealed to me is that, on principal, I would never believe what someone tells me I should believe.

So when it comes to forgiveness, I process things the way that I usually do – in my writing. The novel I am currently writing The Unicorn, The Mystery, is set in the late Middle Ages and addresses some religious themes.  I am going to read you a short excerpt of a monk talking with his Latin teacher, also a Priest:

purification

 

“One of the things that Augustine is known for is his ‘doctrine of love.’ He wrote about forgiveness – which of course is related to love.  In addition to forgiving others, it’s important to forgive ourselves. In fact, some argue that you cannot forgive another without first forgiving yourself,” said my teacher.

I smiled and nodded.  This all made sense. No words were necessary from me.

“He also was the first to write about loving your neighbor as yourself. In saying this, he infers that it is first necessary to love yourself. When you truly love yourself, then you can love your neighbor and you can love God unconditionally,” he stated.

The Priest was silent – and so was I for a moment.

My curiosity got the best of me and I asked, “What if you are ashamed of yourself – how can you find it in your heart to forgive yourself? And if you can’t, how can you ever love your neighbor and how can you love God?”

The Priest looked at me oddly.

“That’s a good question,” he replied finally. “I do not know the answer. Perhaps I am not the best person to talk about love. I take the Christian writings seriously.  I try to follow them.  I follow my heart and each time it is a disaster. I love teaching and I love my students. But each term, things go too far, and I have my heart broken again,” he cried.

I looked at him with sadness.  He had his reasons for hating himself. Perhaps that’s why he was snippy at times. How could he forgive himself, when the church told him he should be ashamed of himself?

This time I cleared my throat. I looked at him with tears in my eyes, and said, “Father – it is true that you know how to love and it is true that you are worthy of love – from others, from God. I came to your office that night after vespers a few months ago. I saw you bent over the desk with Gregory – I saw the love that surrounded you.”

The Priest looked at me as if he had seen a ghost.

 

 

I attended the Episcopal Church until I was about five — when my mother became a card-carrying atheist.  It’s a long story.  I remember reciting the Lord’s Prayer. When I think about forgiveness, I think about the lines:

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us;

 

As I did my research, I was fascinated to learn that in the “Book of Matthew,” chapter 6, of the New Testament, the line after the Lord’s Prayer says:

 

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

 

Of course, in my Unitarian Universalist interpretation, God the Father could be the Universe, the Great Spirit, or the Mother/ Father God or God the Father.  It depends on what day it is.

If I’ve offended anyone, please forgive me.

 

Namaste.

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

 

Amazon THEY

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I was delighted to learn that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is being presented by Adelaide Books (an imprint of Adelaide Literary Magazine) at the 2018 Book Expo/BookCon New Title Showcase.  The conference is held on May 30 – June 1 in New York City.  For the complete list of new titles that Adelaide is presenting and to learn more about the Expo, click here. THEY is in the fiction/metaphysical category.

 

Amazon THEYAdelaide Books (New York and Lisbon)/ March 11, 2018/  0-9995164-3-4

 

Janet Mason has a storyteller’s gift, weaving rich imagery with provocative twists to create a world where gender is as complex and fluid as the emotional bond between twins. With its Biblical, Pagan, fantastical and modernist roots, THEY is not easily categorized – and even harder to put down.

Susan Gore, PhD, Editor, Coming Out in Faith: Voices of LGBTQ Unitarian Universalists

 

 

“Whoever heard of a divine conception?”

Tamar rolled her eyes. She looked skeptically at her twin.

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is a novel written by Pushcart nominee Janet Mason.  It is now available on Amazon  and will be available in bookstores soon.

In THEY, we met Tamar from the Hebrew Bible. Tamar lives as a hermit in the desert, is content with her life and is happily barren. She is attached to her pet camel. Her aversion to goat sacrifices becomes so strong that it prompts her to become a vegetarian. Tamar has a twin sister Tabitha who becomes pregnant after seducing a young muscular shepherd. Tamar plots with Tabitha to trick Judah (a patriarch from the Bible) into believing that the baby is his so that she can have status in society rather than being burnt at the stake. Tabitha gives birth to twins.  Tamar becomes attached to the children (born intersex), who call her auntie, and follows their line of intersex twins.

THEY is written for both the reader with and without a biblical background. The reader without a background will have an interesting romp through the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. THEY is also influenced by other spiritual traditions and laced with humor. The reader who is versed in biblical history will have an entertaining read and a new spin on an old story. The novel is strongly influenced by the Gnostic Gospels and by the teachings of Buddhism and Hinduism.   

THEY is a groundbreaking work that will prove to be lifesaving for those in the LGBTQ community and enlightening and liberating to others.

Janet Mason is an award-winning creative writer, teacher, radio commentator, and blogger for The Huffington Post. She records commentary for This Way Out, the internationally-aired LGBTQ radio syndicate based in Los Angeles. Her book, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, published by Bella Books in 2012, was chosen by the American Library Association for its 2013 Over the Rainbow List. Tea Leaves also received a Goldie Award. She is the author of three poetry books.

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, is now available on Amazon

The Philadelphia launch of THEY will be held at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore in the Mt. Airy neighborhood.  Stay tuned for more details.

Following is an excerpt of THEY — The Descent of Ishtar with Asushunamir the two spirited, intersexed, trickster — performed at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in Philadelphia.

 

 

Click here for more YouTube videos and text excerpts of THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders.

 

 

 

 

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I am posting  a segment of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (just published by Adelaide Books — New York / Lisbon) and available on Amazon

This excerpt was published in BlazeVox15.

 

A Perfect Mind (1272 BCE)

“It is not too late.” Tamar reached up and took Judith’s hand. “You can still conceive a daughter.” “How?” said Judith. “I am almost to the end of my bleeding time. I will do anything.” “First, you have to examine your mind. You must also look closely at your actions. You have to stop talking about your husband and sons. You have to take off the silver necklaces.” Tamar saw the look of horror on Judith’s face. Amazon THEY

“But who am I without my husbands and sons? They are everything to me — even though my husband barely looks at me, and my sons never listen to me.” Tamar nodded. Judith didn’t have to tell her this. She already knew. She was at peace as she opened her mouth and uttered words she had never heard before. She could feel, deep within her, that these words were true: “You are yourself; you are the first and the last; you are the honored one and the scorned one; you are the whore and the holy one; you are the wife and the virgin; you are the mother and the daughter; you are the barren one; and many are your sons; you are the silence that is incomprehensible; you are the utterance of your name.” Tamar didn’t know where she had heard these words before or where they had come from. They had echoed through her, a truth about Judith. She was all of these things and more. She liked the sound of these words. She would have to remember to write them down later. Judith looked at Tamar and nodded. Tamar looked at the light in Judith’s eyes — and saw her beauty. There was not much light in the tent — only from the one oil lamp and the desert sunset that filtered through the opening above the pole in the center of the tent. Judith’s eyes caught the light and cast it back.

Her long dark hair shone. Her oval face held the luster of dark olives. Tamar knew that the things that were undefined were larger than Judith’s existence as a wife and mother. And she knew that Judith was ready to know her own greatness. All Judith had to do to fly was to let go of the past and to catch Tamar’s words in mid-air. But she wasn’t ready — yet. “The necklaces are all I have to show my accomplishments. ” “Just put them away for a while. You can always put them back on later,” answered Tamar. “Every day, in the morning, sit and breath for a while — at least until the sun shifts. Let go of the outside voices that say you are less than. These voices might come from your husband, from your sons. They might be the voices of the women in the marketplace. They might be everything that was told to you since you were a girl. But you have your own inner voice. And that voice will free you.” “Okay,” said Judith. “How do I start?” Tamar smiled serenely. “Sit down with me,” she said. Tamar sat cross legged on one of the folded camel hair blankets. “Remember several growing seasons ago, when Leah brought the scroll that had been passed onto her and we sat and watched our breath and listened to the sound of “OM?” Judith nodded. “We started every ritual after that with watching out breath and making the sound,” said Judith. “Yes,” said Tamar. “And remember Leah and I said that it was good to start every day with a practice of quietness — of watching our breath until the thoughts in our own minds go away and we are emptied. This way we are making a space for your own voice.” “I remember that Leah suggested that we do this at home in our own tents. But I have too much to do to practice. Besides, I don’t have that much privacy and my husband and sons would wonder what I am doing.” “We can do it right now,” said Tamar. “Wait a minute. Tell me about the scroll. Where did it come from?” Tamar looked at Judith. “The teachings of the scroll are not outlawed,” said Tamar. The voice in her head said Yet.

This was true, but Tamar was wise enough to be protective of the scroll. “But no one knows of its existence. And because it does not acknowledge the one God, it will surely be destroyed if anyone finds out about it. You really want to have a daughter, right?” “More than anything.” “First, you must promise not to tell anyone about the scroll — not your husband and not Jacob and Samuel at the village well. Not anyone.” “I promise,” replied Judith. “Leah has a friend that she has known for many years, almost as long as she has been in our goddess cult. This friend has a friend who had gone to the South of India and he brought back the scroll in a clay jar that her friend bought and gave to her. The man who had travelled to India was trading in scents and perfumes and creams. He sells his wares to the Nabataeans, the desert nomads in North Arabia.” “I’ve heard of the Nabataeans,” said Judith. “But not good things. They worship many gods, not the one God. My husbands and sons say that they are bad and to stay away from them when they sell their scents at the market.” “And do you always do what your husband and sons say?” “I say that I do,” admitted Judith as she sat down on a folded blanket and faced Tamar. “But I bought some jars of Egyptian water lily scented cream from them. I use it on myself between the few times each week when I bathe. It really does soften my skin. The scent is delicate and fragrant. I keep the jar hidden. Bram doesn’t notice the smell and neither do my sons.” “See. You know how to keep something to yourself when it suits you.” Judith nodded. “Yes, I can keep a secret.” “Then you must keep the secret of the scroll. And do not tell anyone that you want to conceive a daughter,” said Tamar. “I know that,” said Judith. “I learned when I was a girl not to say I wanted a daughter. Mother taught me that women only pray for sons and those who pray for daughters never get what they want.” “That is what we are taught,” said Tamar. “But all prayer doesn’t have to be that way. This scroll talks about a religion that worships the feminine. And by sitting quietly and noticing our breath, by feeling our oneness and saying the first sound of creation, ‘OM,’ we can remove all obstacles because they begin in the mind.”

“But is feeling our oneness the same as worshipping the one God?” asked Judith. “I think it is the same, but others may not agree,” said Tamar. She knew that if Judith felt bad about betraying the one God, she would have a hard time removing the obstacles that blocked the conception of a daughter. But Tamar was also telling Judith what she knew in her heart to be true. Judith nodded. “Just remember,” said Tamar. “To pray not only for yourself. Yes, you want a daughter more than anything, but you want to give birth to a daughter who can help others as well. You want a daughter who will make the land better when she walks upon it. You want a daughter because she will bring happiness, joy and peace to all who look upon her. “I hadn’t thought of that,” said Judith. “But you are right. My daughter will bring happiness to others. And she will make our land a better place.” “That’s right,” whispered Judith. The two women faced each other and breathed deeply. “We’ll start with ‘OM,’ the first sound that came out of the great void, that embraces all that exists and that has no beginning and no ending, the name of God,” said Tamar. “But is He our God?” asked Judith. “Our one God?” Tamar shrugged. “Some would say so. Others would say not. And others would say that this God is not a He or a She. This God is a vibration, the sound of the brightest stars as they shoot across the desert night sky, the shifting of the grains of sand that make up the endless expanse of the desert and the song of the wind as it sculpts the sand.” “I see,” replied Judith. “This is the same as the one God, but different. OM is the sound of creation. Yet the one God is said to have made everything. I remember my mother telling me the stories. The words lulled me to sleep then. Even now they move me. But my mother told me that Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden because Eve listened to the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit and then convinced her husband to have some.”

Judith laughed abruptly and said, “as if serpents could talk!”

 

click here to read the entire piece in BlazeVox15

 

Another excerpt is in the recent issue of Sinister Wisdom — the fortieth anniversary issue

A different excerpt is also in the aaduna literary magazine  (this excerpt was nominated for a Pushcart Prize)

View YouTube videos of readings and performances of THEY by clicking here.

Text excerpts from THEY and my introductions presented at UUCR (Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration) can be clicked on below.

To read the text to the “Descent of Ishtar” and the introduction (where I talk about ancient Babylon), click here.

To read the text to “Forty Days And Forty Nights” as well as my introduction, click here.

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horiz me and Virgin MaryI’ve long been interested in the origins of religion, particularly with the matrilineal cultures that have come through the Judeo-Christian traditions — if you read between the lines.

This partially comes from research and partly from following my own intuition. For instance, many have observed — and it is obvious to me — that the Virgin Mary and her son, Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) are based on the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis and her son Horus.  The goddess underpinnings, no doubt, account for the popularity of the Virgin Mary/Blessed Mother and the cult of the Black Madonna in many different cultures.Janet-Mason-THEY

I joined a Unitarian Universalist church about five years ago, began learning about religion ( I was raised secular) and started reading the Bible (which was not required).   There is some good stuff in there — if you pick and choose.  I began to wonder how marginalized people survived in the fierce desert. In particular, I began to wonder how strong women and LGBTQ people (long before labels) survived.

I wondered about people who were born intersex, those who may have identified with a different sex than they were born into, and those who identify as non-binary.

This is the origin of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders.

THEY was recently published by Adelaide Books (New York/Lisbon).

My good friend, the poet, Maria Fama (who I have long discussed these issues with), says of THEY:

In her novel THEY, Janet Mason tells a fascinating tale in a bold, iconoclastic style, tinged with humor.  She turns the Judeo-Christian biblical landscape upside down as she examines patriarchy, gender roles, and the fluidity of sexuality and gender.

–Maria Fama, author, Other Nations: an animal journal

 

You can read more about THEY by clicking here.

You can view some YouTube videos of THEY being performed and read by clicking here.

 

Virgin Mary sky

 

(the photo of me holding THEY was taken by Barbara J. McPherson — the rest were taken by myself)

 

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HowTheTrumpStoleXmas

HO HO HO


AND TO ALL A  GOOD NIGHT

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The following is a recent review that I wrote for the Alexander Artway Archive, a very interesting photo collection that I have been working with. Alexander Artway was an architect and photographer who photographed New York City in the 1930s. You can view the photos by clicking here.

We have decided to review photography books for the Alexander Artway blog — and this first book by David Freese documents that climate change is real.

Working with the Alexander Artway Archive inspired me to write the novel Looking At Pictures. You can click here to read excerpts (or watch me on YouTube).

The blog post/review is reprinted below:

artway blog

Last year or so when taking photography classes at Temple University (so that we could apply the learning to our photo archive ) we had the good fortune of taking David Freese’s course on World Photography.

When we heard that David was introducing his new book at the Print Center in Philadelphia (formerly the Print Club), we were delighted and went to the lecture and to buy David’s book, East Coast: Arctic to Tropic, Photographs by David Freese with text by Simon Winchester and Jenna Butler.

After Hurricane Sandy — when Freese saw the devastation first hand — he was, as he writes in the book on a mission to “show the connection between a warming climate and these fragile and vulnerable low-lying areas.” The result was this coffee-table sized photography book with stunning black and white images.  The images (most of them aerial) are so visually appealing that many to us were reminiscent of trips we had taken or evocative of places we had read about.

That these images are important is underscored by the fact that this coast line with be vastly different in a generation or two. In other words, people living in the future will not see what we see if global warming is to continue its cataclysmic course.

 Freese  — who writes that he “did a lot of research on the topic” of climate change – shows us the pristine beauty of ice and cloud in Greenland at the start of his journey.

As he writes, “water, water is everywhere” and we see that this is true – not only of glacially pure remote areas but major cities as he descends down the Eastern Seaboard in his book coming to the conclusion that “the albatross of global warming and a rising sea is around our collective necks.”

Among other places, the images take us to Quebec, Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia where the heavens seem to shine down in sun rays from above. Freese also shows us remote views such as “Bubble Rock and Eagle Lake,” Acadia National Park, Maine.  The image, dominated by a boulder atop a mountaintop under a sky that is palpable startles with its bold simplicity.

 The book ends in Florida with images that are as equally beautiful and stunning.  The photography is done with such skill in the tradition of landscape photographers (think Edward Weston and Ansel Adams) that at times it’s easy to forget that everything might be underwater soon.

East Coast: Arctic to Tropic is published by George F. Thompson Publishing – www.gftbooks.com

 

 

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