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Janet Mason is holding her book launch for her novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon — 2018) at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore on July 26, a Thursday evening, at 7 p.m.  The Big Blue Marble Bookstore is located at 551 Carpenter Lane, Philadelphia 19119.

Amazon THEY

 

Mason, who teaches at Temple University Center City and the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for a section of the novel.

Mason is also 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. Mason is a lay minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of The Restoration located on Stenton Avenue in East Mt. Airy.

From the back cover of THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders:

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

 

To read an excerpt from THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, click here.

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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.
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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.

 

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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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I am re-posting some published excerpts of my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders that was just published by Adelaide Books (New York/ Lisbon). (For more information about the book — click here.)

This piece was first published in aaduna and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

The Mother  

(sometime early in the first century)

 

In the beginning was the Mother.

In the womb, Tamar took mental notes. The heavens trembled — at least it felt like the heavens. Maybe it was just gas. The Mother shifted. At first, it was too dark to see. But Tamar could feel. At first it felt like chaos — like everything was unconnected. But then she felt something holding her. A curved wall. She was leaning into it. It was soft and warm. She felt her backbone curve behind her. She was half of a circle. Was she floating? There was a chord attached to her belly. She relaxed once she realized that she wouldn’t float away.

There were appendages coming out from her shoulders. She looked down below the chord. On the lower part of her body there was a small bump and on either side of that were two more appendages. There was liquid all around her. She felt warm and safe. She didn’t have to worry yet about breathing.

Whoosh. She flinched. Slosh. Gurgles whizzed by. There was an abbreviated bubbling. After it repeated three times, she identified the sound as a hiccup. After a few moments, there was silence. Then there was a contented hum coming from the distance. Tamar knew it was the Mother, and it calmed her.

Amazon THEY

The darkness lifted. She saw a distant light glowing through the pink barrier. She looked down and noticed tiny extremities with red lines moving through them. They were attached to the ends of two appendages, on each side of her. She found that she could move them, as if she were trying to grasp something. She knew that these movements would come in handy later. The light went out. Darkness. Tamar felt herself in her body.

She was perfect.

When she woke again, she blinked for the first time. It felt good so she did it again. The pinkish yellow glow came back. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. She rubbed the short one across the tips of several of the others, and felt a roughness. She felt a nourishment rushing from the chord through her body. And it was good. She went back to sleep for a long while.

When she woke, she stretched and yawned. She saw a pinkish yellow glow. It was faint and came from the other side. She looked toward the light and saw the sack next to her. There was someone inside who looked like her. It even had a light glowing around its edges — just like she did — down its extremities and around its fingers and toes. She remembered now that she had entered one body of two. Her twin was beside her. There was a large, round dome attached to a small body like hers. The big round dome faced her. The eyes looked at her. One blinked and the other stayed open. The two corners of the lips went up. Somehow she knew that this was a smile. Her twin was welcoming her. She wanted to welcome him back, but something stopped her. She didn’t know who her twin was. Was her twin part of her? She wasn’t sure she wanted to be part of someone else. She definitely didn’t want to share her Mother.

There were appendages on both sides of his body. There were five fingers attached to the end of each appendage. The fingers clenched and unclenched. They seemed to wave at her. Tamar thought about waving back, but she didn’t. She wasn’t sure if the thing next to her in the translucent sack could see her. So she pretended that she didn’t see it. Then she looked down and saw something protruding. At first she thought that she was seeing a shadow. She moved her head slightly. The shadow was still there. She looked down at her own body and saw that she also had a third appendage on the lower part of her body. It was much shorter than the two other limbs. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. They were all there — five on each side, including the shorter ones at the ends. None of them had fallen off. She looked down again. Somehow she knew that this protrusion made her a boy and knowing this made her angry.

She knew her name was Tamar, but she had forgotten where it came from. She knew that Tamar was a girl’s name, and that she was a girl. She had a vague memory in her cells that she had come from a single egg, fertilized by a trail of light that had come just for her. And she remembered that another egg, fertilized with its own stream of light, was next to her and that the two eggs had merged. They crossed over and into each other, exchanging some vital information. Tamar’s egg knew that it was female. But it absorbed a sequence of information that told it that its genetic material that it would be male and female. The secret language of the cells said that each of the eggs would be XX and XY.

The thing next to her had a longer protrusion than her. She took comfort in that. Perhaps this meant that she was really a girl after all. But the thing next to her — gradually, she came to think of him as her twin — would most likely be lording his superiority over her forever.

On the sides of the protrusion were two lower appendages. She found that she could use her mind to stretch them. And once she stretched them, she realized that these were her legs and that her feet were attached to the ends of them. She kicked at the inside of the pink cushion that surrounded her.

“Ow,” said a woman’s voice. It was the voice of the Mother. Tamar knew that she had to get the Mother’s attention first. She kicked again.

This time she felt a gentle hand push down on the other side of the pink cushion. Her twin nudged the Mother back.

“What are you trying to tell me, my son?” asked Mother.

I’m a girl — a girl just like you Mother, Tamar tried to say. But speech eluded her. She had yet to utter her first cry. But she had to get Mothers attention —

to read the entire piece in aadduna, 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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I’m reposting this from last year when my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (now available on Amazon from Adelaide Books — Lisbon/ New York) was in process.

(For my recent announcement about THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, click here.)

March 1, 2017

In this post, I wanted to give you a preview of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders.  Three sections have been presented at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia).

The YouTube videos are below.  Short fiction excerpts of the novel have been published in several journals.  And one journal nominated a section for the Pushcart Prize.  The links to the journals are below the YouTube videos.

THEY is a novel based on the Bible (with some creative interpretations) and has gender fluid, intersex characters.  It also includes some strong female and gentle men characters who act on their passions and, in some instances, live as LGBTQ people.  But the novel (which also includes some carry overs from goddess culture) begins somewhere in the time period of 800 to 600 bce (before the common era) and that was definitely before labels!

The three YouTube videos below are excerpts from THEY  are in consecutive order from past to present.

 

 

 

 

 

You can also read an excerpt, written as standalone short fiction, in the online literary journal 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)

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.

Amazon THEY

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