Dead Tree Book Log: The Moon Under Her Feet by Clysta Kinstler

November 30, 2007 at 2:52 pm (books)

I’d planned to write this entry about Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko, but I’m currently lost somewhere around page 400 (of 763), in the desert amongst the cholla and mesquite, in a time out of time.

So instead I’ll be talking about The Moon Under Her Feet, by Clysta Kinstler. I read it for a course I’m taking — “Encounter With The Divine Femine” — and I’m quite sure I never would have picked it up otherwise, though I quite enjoyed it. It is a reimagining of the story of Jesus and, more importantly, Mary Magdalene. In this version, Magdalene is a formal title for the High Priestess of the Temple; the Hebrews worship YHVH and the Goddess* as a divine couple. This supreme Goddess is a blend of several different goddesses (or, the same goddess in different traditions), who are recognized as one. She is “the Mother, Inanna-Ishtar-Isis-Ashera” (264).

Kinster creates a fascinating blend of mythologies, putting the story of Jesus in its (likely) cultural context. It is very appropriate that we only read it now, in the last few weeks of the class — one needs a very solid grounding in Near Eastern goddess mythology to really understand the book, I think. The immaculate conception is a hieros gamos rite, and everything happens in terms of the Isis-Osiris/Inanna-Dumuzi legend. The inter-mythological connections are really imaginative and interesting. I think it would be very enjoyable for anyone with an interest Inanna/Lilith worship and lore, goddess worship more generally, the goddess within Judaism (see also!), feminist interpretations of Judaism and Christianity, and/or the way that power and politics tend to transfigure religion and history.

Now. Criticism.

She made the characters white. No, really, she did. Not Jesus — Yeshua — but everyone else, including Mary Magdalene, the other Jews, and many of the Romans. It’s not subtle, either. I’m talking “glorious . . . red hair” (8) and “blue, blue eyes” (14). This distracted and exasperated me to no end. I don’t understand why Kinstler would make that choice because quite frankly it’s fucking insane. It’s false, inaccurate, ridiculous, ethnocentric, racist, offensive. Native Middle Easterners look like Middle Easterners; Mediterranean people look Mediterranean. They do not look like they’re from Western Europe. What the hell.

This kind of whitewashing is always insulting, but it was especially bad in this case for two reasons. Firstly, she’s got a pretty far-out premise (that the Hebrews were polytheistic Goddess-worshipers, that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were not just lovers but an egalitarian ministry team) — it strikes me an extremely unwise to undermine her credibility in any way, given how far her ideas are from the mainstream. Kinstler has got to know that many of her readers are straining to even believe her setting. Why would she make that even harder, make the book any less tenable? If we can’t even trust her not to make these Semites into the English, why should we accept her other, far less common propositions?

Secondly, this book is, it seems to me, supposed to be about reclaiming truth from the oppressive power structure. It’s about putting women back were they belong (equal to men), putting the feminine back where it belongs (as part of the divine). Why do white feminists so frequently forget our comrades, people of color? Why did Kinstler feel the need to continue this bigoted, unacceptable tradition? Why did her editors at HarperCollins figure this was just fine?

Maybe for the same sort of reasons that the Christian hierarchy thought it was fine to make Mary Magdalene into a prostitute?

It’s really quite a lot like the situation with Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism. From a feminist perspective, the book has many merits. Do those merits outweigh its failings? In both cases, I am not sure.

* I don’t think YHVH and the Goddess are mutually exclusive. That is, I don’t think worshiping the feminine requires either rejecting or adding to YHVH. Ideally, the unified Godhead (what YHVH is supposed to be, I think and was taught) isn’t some father-figure in the sky, but a much more complete, complicated abstraction.

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