This is a book of Arthurian legend, told from the perspective of the women in Arthur's life. (For the record, in the fall of 2000, when I took an Arthurian legend course, we were not assigned to read this book. I wonder if my professor's being a Jesuit had anything to do with it.) The Mists of Avalon is set in a time when Christianity actually competed with local devotion to the Goddess. As we know historically, this devotion was driven into hiding by the Christian claims that the God of Christianity was the one and true God, and all other Gods were false idols, even demons.
One of the more striking features of this book is that the fruitfulness and pleasure of sex are highly valued both in and out of marriage, rather than diminished or seen as second in holiness to celibacy. Imagine that: sex with mutual consent as good. It seems almost bizarre in this Puritanical country to think so, but to me and to many others, it makes perfect sense. It makes even more sense to me to regard sex with mutual consent as holy, as a religious act of devotion--not only because sex can be fruitful, but because sex is so intimate and joyful. Why not? Really, why not?
Marion Zimmer Bradley ends the book with a note of hope, that all the Gods are one. It makes me wonder now, what would the gospels of Christianity look like if they were told from the perspective of women? And what would Roman Catholicism look like if women made up the majority of priests? What if, in all seriousness, the pope were a woman? And what would America look like if Pagan priestesses, devoted to the Goddess, were to capture the imaginations of the religious majority?
I'm astonished that this book was written the year I was born--1982. Could such a poignant and fresh feminist perspective be thirty-four years old?
After reading this book, it is no surprise to me that Pagan devotion is growing in this country and around the world. Devotion to the Feminine Divine, and an awareness of the Goddess within all of us, is long overdue, I think.
I am happy that I can add this book to the growing shelves of books I have set aside for my daughters to read someday. May they be empowered, and may their imaginations be broadened.
Needless to say, if you've never read this book, I highly recommend it.