Waking the Moon, by Elizabeth Hand, made me realize why I hate most horror stories. (Or I think it’s most, anyway — only recently have I begun to purposefully read anything labeled horror, because I stumbled on a few that were different.) I have no patience with a tale in which Evil is a force or being more powerful than human beings. Avoiding responsibility by projecting human faults into some demonic Other — I think that’s a recipe for delusion and infantilism.
The omnipotent view of divinity angers me even when God is seen as purely good, as in conventional Christian belief. When the godhead is all-powerful, then human power is insignificant, and we are robbed of the dignity of agency, of the authority that taking existential responsibility gives us to create meaningful lives.
A deity is a human concept: an idea we have about something which is actually totally beyond our understanding. We endow each of these concepts with certain attributes in order to be able to think about those subjects. For example dark imagery serves the mythic/psychological purpose of giving us a handle — a means — to deal with what we fear.
But when we create omnipotent divinities, we are avoiding responsibility. We are not in charge of our lives, our deity is. This submission to authority invites abuse. Result: a culture of manipulation, victimization and violence. So we create the Devil, an overwhelmingly powerful evil force, in order to avoid facing the “enemy” within ourselves.
Othiym Lunarsa, Hand’s Dark Goddess, is not quite all-powerful; but she is only foiled by …not really the humans who fight her, but rather the destiny that makes them its instruments. Humans are not effective agents, only caught up in a play of greater forces. And the ones opposing Othiym don’t come off as truly beneficient. But this complexity serves no mythic function, it just muddies the picture.
I want mythic stories that truly help me deal with the issues they evoke. If a story simply recapitulates manipulation, victimization and violence, it bores me.
Besides boringly powerful, Hand’s Othiym Lunarsa is boringly evil.
This Goddess is not any of the female versions of divinity I was familiar with from the Neopagan movement or feminist thealogy. Those interpretations typically include both bright and dark aspects of godhood. But in an interview with Cheryl Morgan of Strange Horizons, Hand expressed impatience with “empty-headed New Age goddess stuff.” She went on, “We don’t really know what went on in ancient goddess-worshipping cultures, but I’m pretty sure it was not this benign, kind of toothless female empowerment that we saw back then in the 1990s goddess movement.”
Hand’s solution to toothlessness however is a stereotype from our culture: pure evil. Murderous, ravenous, devouring — completely destructive, unopposed by any beneficient deity or aspect.
The single-valued image of divinity fails in conservation of psychic energy. It may well be that modern woman seldom looks at the bloodier manifestations of the Dark Goddess — but they were part of a system in balance. If we revisit the horror, we distort mythic reality unless we also recreate the power to transform the horror.
We need both dark and bright — as well as the bright side of the dark, and the dark side of the bright. (A single-sided concept of God as only good is just as pernicious. If the godhead is only good, then anything bad is ungodly, and must be fought or destroyed. Moveover the only good is my definition of God; yours is bad, and therefore so are you.)
A Satisfying Finale
I wanted a finale to Waking the Moon in which … well, say Sweeney discovered responsibility she had for the dire situation … took the place of the sacrificial victim … in so doing disrupted the power field which had been building toward the ascension of Othiym … resulting instead in a fragmentation of that being into two halves … who fell into each other’s arms with passion that sometimes looked like love and sometimes hate. It was clear to all that this was Othiym’s true nature, which had been disrupted by the effects of human theology over the centuries.
All the humans who had been involved in the plot were marked with a tiny, lunula-shaped burn, just between their collarbones. It scarred. They found themselves reflecting on the whole disturbing affair. This had various effects, but all resulted in some kind of increased awareness.
Is there any fiction with this kind of action? Fiction in which human beings reclaim the power we have handed over to deities? People own their responsibility for evil they have projected? For me this would be the most exciting kind of adventure story, the most satisfying resolution to true horrors. It would acknowledge the horror, and go beyond it.
So far I can only think of a non-fiction treatment: Tsultrim Allione’s Feeding Your Demons. More on that later.