Thursday, December 20, 2012's my hand, a ghazal for the year's turn

sometimes watch your thoughts: leaves floating by on a stream

other times, hunt your thoughts down, be a predator

the witness knows which thoughts pass, which to devour

in winter earth’s summer colors fly into sky

a fleet sunset blooming, light cultivating cloud

gold, purple, red—our color-hungry eyes are fed

young moon brighter and brighter in deepening dusk

the slim curve brimming with night, someone bear witness:

three small birds swoop down to drink the moon’s reflection 

a dust mote in god’s light, call it a galaxy,

a universe, call it me, how else would god see?

whirl on tiny one, small world, trust immensity  

silent as sunlight, in this timeless way I move

whose hands hold the strings that pull the tides, rock my bones?

my feet are wind in the grass, watch me disappear

beloved friends, the world ends again and again

with each death, each year, each turn of an ancient wheel

beginning takes fierce courage, wild faith, here’s my hand.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Maeve (aka Mary Magdalen) on the Papyrus Scrap

Maeve has been impatiently waiting for interview requests from The New York Times and other major media since The Times published that article about of a scrap of papyrus. You know the business-card size scrap in which Jesus makes a reference to (feel the shaking of the church’s one foundation) “my wife.” The press has been slow on the uptake, so Maeve has deigned to grant an exclusive interview at this blogsite.  

Interviewer: So Maeve Rhuad (aka Mary Magdalen) I suppose that Jesus might have had a wife comes as no news to you.  Do you feel a little insulted by the furor over a scrap of 2nd century papyrus when you have been trying to state the obvious for over two thousand years?

Maeve: Maybe bemused rather than insulted. People do tend to get more excited over ancient bits of papyrus than recently published novels—unless they are by Dan Brown. That the article made reference only to Dan Brown omitting many other (sorry Dan and thanks for publicity) more accomplished novelists is the insulting part. 

Interviewer:  Why do you suppose the existence of Jesus’s wife (which is to say your existence) has been so suppressed all these centuries? What’s the big deal about a Jewish rabbi having a wife?

Maeve: Many people have speculated about my existence and there have been various heretical traditions about Jesus’s marriage among such sects as the Cathars. But if you want to know the real dirt, it’s all in The Maeve Chronicles. Readers will recall that I got off to a bad start with Peter. When I met him, I was running a holy whorehouse, and his wife came to us to …let’s just say resolve fertility issues. Even so, Peter and I had our rare good moments. But things fell apart when he laid siege to Temple Magdalen to try to take my posthumous daughter by Jesus. We finally cut a deal: I would keep my baby and disappear from the story. I got off to a bad start with Paul of Tarsus, too, and with Jesus’s brother James. There was one moment in my misadventures when I had those three church fathers, so to speak, tied up and held at knife point. I could have nipped church’s long, bloody history in the bud, but all I wanted was information about my daughter—whom they had kidnapped at the age of twelve! So the deal is off, as far as my disappearing from the story is concerned. By the way, in case you’re wondering, Sarah gave her kidnappers the slip, stowed away on a ship and later became a pirate.  

Interviewer:  The scrap of papyrus also refers to a female disciple. Many people assume she is the same woman as one he calls wife. Would you care to comment?

Maeve: Yes, I would, on my own behalf and on behalf of my friend Mary of Bethany who really was a disciple and who fought for the right of women to be not only disciples but leaders in the ecclesia. As for me, I am simply not disciple material. Jesus knew that, and that is why he finally broke down and proposed marriage to me. He was overwhelmed by his following. He needed someone who loved him passionately but was willing to tell him off—which I did from an early age and continued to do to the point of throwing figs at him in the Temple of Jerusalem after he blasted the fig tree (which I restored to life, by the way).  I never converted to Judaism or Christianity—though I did become a whore-priestess of Isis when I encountered that goddess during my sojourn as a slave in Rome.  

Interviewer: In addition to controversy over whether or not you were married to Jesus, there has always been speculation about whether you were a whore, for which there is no scriptural evidence. Many people now insist that casting you as a whore is a patriarchal defamation of your character. Would you care to set the record straight?

Maeve: Far be it from me to defend the patriarchy, but you see they cast me as a penitent whore, and that I never was and never will be. But yes indeed I was a whore, and so would you be if you were a young woman (or man) captured by a Roman slaver and sold on the block, which is what happened to me. When I finally won my freedom (an exciting tale included in The MaeveChronicles) I continued to ply my trade—but on my own sovereign terms at Temple Magdalen—the holy whorehouse I mentioned earlier. My biggest hesitation in marrying Jesus was the prospect of leaving Temple Magdalen and going on the road with The Twelve (though it was usually a lot more than that).

Interviewer: One last question. Can you tell us briefly what it was like being married to Jesus?

Maeve: If you really want to know, read the last part of The Passion of Mary Magdalen. In brief? It was no bed of roses. Jesus is supposed to have said “the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” Well, he had my breasts, thank you very much! And I had only his less sumptuous chest. We did not have a typical married life. We never had a home together. We always had a lot of other people around us. Our child was born after he died and rose and disappeared (though lo he is always with me). We had a major rift towards the end of our marriage (see blasted fig tree) but we made it up when he saved me from being stoned as an adulteress. What was it like being married to Jesus? Blissful, agonizing, sweet, short.  Brief yet momentous. A mustard seed, a hazelnut, a scrap of papyrus.

Monday, September 3, 2012


between summer and fall
between one political convention and the other
between the full blue moon and the next new moon
between holiday and school
between breath in, breath out
between tide in, tide out
between young and not so young
between not so old and old
between labor contractions
between life and death
between knowing and not knowing
between toil and rest
between harvest and fallow field
between flying and falling
between waking and dreaming and the reverse
between disasters seen, unseen and unforeseen
between miracles, the same
between notes and grace notes
between the wide world and the small one
between the great silences that shelter us all

As I write, it is Labor Day. I am between chapters of the mystery (the novel-in-progress) but perhaps also the mystery. I started working on this poem a couple of days ago to try to express my sense of what may be a time of the year, a particular time in my life, or a time in our collective life. Whatever 2012 is or isn’t according the Mayan calendar and the plethora of interpretations, it is an election year for the presidency of the United States of America. The economy is in peril and many people remain without viable employment on this day that celebrates workers. Rights that we fought for and believed we had secured are under attack. It is another year of extreme and disastrous weather for many parts of the country.

Like many people, I often feel I don’t do enough to address the challenges of our time and/or I don’t know what to do.  So I just keep doing something, anything, and succeed mainly at wearing myself out. In the last month I have had my tenth bout of Lyme disease. Between the disease itself and the powerful antibiotics, I have experienced a mind-altering fatigue.  I have not taken to my bed (aerobic physical activity helps destroy lyme spirochetes). But I have been pausing more often. Sitting still and gazing. Yesterday I saw a ruby-throated humming bird not more than a foot away from my face. I have spent a lot of time looking at the reflection of sky in the water. Sometimes I just sit and close my eyes and let drawing breath be enough. Are nonattachment and exhaustion next of kin? I don’t know. I am finding it helpful to pause. Not to forget the sorrows of the world, but to remember the underlying, encompassing mysteries. Not sure I am being coherent. All I mean to say is: pause.

That said: here are few announcements and invitations. Please do visit my new website, if you haven’t yet and subscribe to receive updates. Black Earth Institute is featuring a project called Thirty Days Hath September, 30 poems by 30 poets to balance and reflect on all the campaign speak with which we are being bombarded. My poem, a ghazal entitled…Who Will Listen will be posted on my birthday, September 27th.  You can subscribe to Black Earth Institute’s blog   to have these poems delivered to your mailbox.

I will be writing quarterly for Feminism andReligion, a refreshing and thought-provoking blogsite. Please do visit. My next post will be published on October 20th. It is possible that Maeve (who is alive and well and trotting the globe) will write it for me.

Local folks, I will be at COTA (Celebration of the Arts) in New Paltz on Saturday, October 6th,  performing from an early novel How to Spin Gold and talking about fairytales. On Sunday, November 11th, I will be speaking at the Pine Plains Library. Details forthcoming at my website .

I am having fun writing the mystery novel, as yet untitled. After writing in Maeve’s  voice for twenty years, it is quite a change to write in the 3rd person again from four different points of view. More on that another time. Suggestions on topics for this blog are welcome. Mostly I want to be in touch and wish you a beautiful Autumn.

Note: even though I have a new email address, I have not been able to persuade to make the change, so this blog will be delivered to you from my old address.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Testing! Testing!

I want to let you all know I have a new website

Please check it out! Lots of good stuff including a page where Maeve Speaks!

Maeve and I will be blogging again soon. For now we are checking to see if this blog is correctly delivered from my new email address.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Roses are Remembered: Land Songs

June 25th marked a year since Douglas and I moved from our house in the woods to High Valley  The last time I posted here, I wrote about feeling overwhelmed with our responsibilities and with other complications regarding this legacy. Many people reached out to me in response to that post, and I have also felt encouraged to ask for help. Thank you, everyone! 

I have also fallen more and more in love with the gardens, and the plants have become my companions and teachers.  This is the first year I have observed closely all the myriad flowerings, beginning in late February with snowdrops and aconites; then came daffodils, tulips, periwinkles, and phlox followed by poppies, allium, and iris, and a yellow flower whose name I still don’t know with small five-pointed cups that bloom all up and down the stalk. (No, it's not mullein). Now is the season of lilies, bee balm, and daisies. 

Most mornings I am outside a little after six. I still go to the far side of the pond (where I have been breakfasting on blackcaps) to do chi gung on the dock. On my way back to the house I visit all the gardens, watering and weeding where necessary, but mostly just greeting everything, praising everything, feeling so grateful for the abundance of life and beauty.  

(Note: High Valley now has a retreat room for guests that includes use of a kitchen and the freedom to enjoy the land, gardens, pond, and trails. Get in touch with me through the website, if you would like to make a retreat.) 

My friend Tom Cowan encouraged me to sing the songs of the land that I hear. Inspired by Tom’s friend the poet JK McDowell who read at High Valley from his collection of ghazalNight, Mystery, and Light, I gathered some of these songs and put them in that form.  (12 syllables per line, 3 lines per stanza, 6 stanzas, each one able to stand by itself). I offer the result with gratitude to everyone and to this land. 

…the roses are remembered: land songs

here is the place where human and wild interlace
what is planted, what plants itself, what is tended
what unintended yet more perfect than your plan

the wild wood takes care of its own in its own time
windstorm, wildfire, flood shift its shape, take and give life
what humans make—then abandon—becomes ruin

year by year you grow more deeply rooted, your leaves
may fall or fly, you may wish you could go with them
but you stay here, storm-shaken or still, one more year

in the eyesore, weedy sandbox framed by cement,
you planted ornamental grass and columbine
I gave bladderwort, succulents, German onion

along the pond the frogs sing my song, note by note,
the redwings know their part; robins hear the song of worms
what is silent also sings, listen, your part waits

the one before you planted roses, then forgot
the way she planted everything then turned it loose
now back from near death, the roses are remembered.

PS: All you lovers of Maeve. She is still with me. She is with you. She gets around. From what I hear, the electronic version of the novels will soon be available.

I am in the midst of writing a mystery novel, also historical—set in 1960. Having fun with the characters, trusting the detective dimension will work.  I do like a challenge. Between garden plots and mystery plotting, I may not be posting here very frequently. Maeve and I do post on FaceBook and Twitter more frequently.

Do keep in touch. How your gardens, literal or figurative, growing?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Wild Edge: Pondering Succession

The sun has moved far enough to the north that early light now finds the far end of the pond. In early Fall, I’d left this spot for warm sunny places closer to the house and gardens. Now the first Spring flowers are gone, and the weeds are asserting themselves, as is the lawn, still mangy-looking from being replanted after the septic system was moved. It is hard not to look at the yard as I imagine guests might see it now that we are entering the busy season. As I do my standing meditation, I keep stopping to pull weeds. And if I manage to keep my body still, my mind is worse, writing do-to lists and shopping lists and wondering if the stink the squirrels left over in the attic over the gathering rooms will ever air out.

I haven’t yet learned how to manage living where I work—a beautiful, overgrown, under-endowed, falling-down place where my tasks include housekeeping, yard work, hospitality, program direction and facilitation in addition to my chosen professions of writing and counseling. At best, I am able to approach High Valley as a Zen Koan. Much better than thinking of it as a business with potential (how I am coming to loathe the word “potential”), a legacy I must save, or a burden I must bear. At worst, I just keep working compulsively till I drop—which I did the other day. I can’t quite bring myself to have a complete nervous breakdown, but my body will periodically arrange for me to be so sick I have to spend a day in bed.

The day I return to the wilder edge for my sunrise practice, I feel a huge sense of release. There is nothing here that needs my attention. There is everything here that rewards my attention. Here I am just another living thing, a transitory living thing. (How I am coming to love the word “transitory.”) Instead of composing to-do lists in my mind, I find myself pondering—an appropriate thing to do next to a pond.

Today I ponder succession, understanding at a new level how obsessed rulers, institutional leaders, family farmers, business tycoons or anyone with a corporate enterprise must be. Who will keep the empire, the church, the farm, the firm going? My husband and I are perhaps not very successful successors to my mother in-law’s small, vast realm. She had her own vision and vocation. But she did not concern herself with succession and left us with some very dicey situations to sort out (not something I can write about). For many years while she was still here, I kept her not-for-profit going with an eclectic Center that evolved its own rituals and culture. But I never made any move to institutionalize what we do here. I never so much as formed a committee. The Center at High Valley, which has hosted many beautiful, meaningful moments and events, is by its nature transitory. I don’t, in any sense, know what (or who) will succeed.

When I am at the wilder edge, I feel more at peace with my lack of success and succession. The natural world has its own succession. As a species, we have interfered with that order yet we are still borne along by forces beyond our control. As a transitory being I find that thought oddly soothing, a bit like a day of enforced bed rest.

Do you see yourself as being and/or having a successor? What is your definition of success? I welcome your ponderings. I also appreciate suggestions of topics for Maeve to address. Her turn next.

Since it is poem-in-a-pocket day, I will close with a couple of tanka (5-7-5-7-7)

buildings falling down
too many people, too few
gardens overgrown
a land vessel going down
us, hapless crew, sinking too

there are these moments
sunlight on worn hardwood floor
they could be enough
bloodroot blooming amidst stone
heron unfolding blue wings

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jezebel and Me--and You: A post by Maeve

The infamous Jezebel, a Phoenician princess who married King Ahab of Israel, lived more than 800 years before my time, so we never got a chance to hang out. If we had, we might have been friends. We have a lot in common.

Neither of us ever converted to our husbands’ maniacally monotheistic religion. But Jezebel went me one better: she did convert her husband to the worship of Baal and Asherah. He even built them a temple. I never attempted to convert my husband. (That said, he did spend many an ecstatic night with me at Temple Magdalen, my holy whorehouse, before and after our unexpected wedding. He was also the catalyst for my apotheosis, however brief, as Isis.)

Jezebel did things on a grander scale. She is said to have fed 450 priests of Baal and 400 priests of Asherah at her table. She is also accused of killing off the priests of Yahweh. Her alleged persecutions drew the attention of the prophet Elijah who mounted a contest between Baal and Yahweh. (Winner: the first to cause a sacrificial bull to spontaneously combust. Prize: status as top dog, I mean god.) When Yahweh prevailed, Elijah slaughtered all Jezebel’s priests. Enraged but not intimidated, Jezebel scared the bejeezus out of Elijah and he turned tail and ran for his life.

The most underhanded thing Jezebel is supposed to have done is to procure Naboth’s vineyard for her whiny husband by illicit means. When Naboth refused to sell to the king, Ahab went off his feed. So Jezebel had Naboth framed for blasphemy for which he and his heirs were promptly stoned. “Got your vineyard for you,” she says to her husband. Meanwhile Elijah comes out of hiding to prophesy some very nasty, gory doom for Ahab, Jezebel and their descendants.

Whether Jezebel did the wicked deed ascribed to her, I don’t know. As Janet Howe Gaines points out in her excellent article “How Bad was Jezebel?” she herself might have been set up. The bias of the biblical writer is clear: Jezebel stands for everything that is abhorrent (and a threat) to the cult of Yahweh. She has to go down. And not only that, be eaten by dogs! But before her grisly end, she shows her metal, painting her eyes with kohl and arranging her hair, then gazing out the window till the latest usurper comes near enough for her to insult him.

Though there is no account of Jezebel doing anything but doting on her sniveling husband, she is also accused of harlotries—and sorceries. Idolatry and adultery were then (and sometimes still are) synonymous. Think of the biblical phrase: whoring after other gods. If a woman has power (or even if she is merely outspoken like me) she must be a whore, a witch—and in my case demon-possessed. Personally, I have no patience with exalting or demonizing women. As Aretha sings, "A woman's only human." We, too, are caught up in the glorious, disastrous mess of incarnation. Why shouldn't we make tragic mistakes, just as men do, and even commit crimes?

The name Jezebel, like the epithet whore, has long been used to intimidate women. We feel we must defend ourselves, protest our virtue. Well, next time someone calls you: Jezebel, whore, witch, go back to painting your eyes with kohl, finish brushing your hair, then turn and calmly gaze. Say, “Yes? And your point?”

For more about Jezebel and me see Bright Dark Madonna, Chapter 16: "Brawl" where the church fathers call me a Jezebel and threaten me with the same fate—all because I ran away to give birth to my daughter in a notorious and holy whorehouse.

Enough about Jezebel and me. What about you? Have you ever been called a Jezebel? Tell us your story.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Blessings of the Night

I have written here before about my love affair with dawn, my tracking of sunrise as it rolls along the horizon from north to south and now back again, almost midway on its journey to summer solstice. I have also written about the construction noise (now on two sides) that goes on for almost twelve hours every day. I have borrowed good headphones and spend much of the day listening random shuffle and ocean waves.

Yesterday the noise was so loud I wore the headphones on a walk in the woods. Very strange not to be listening to wind and birds. I also walked the labyrinth and in the center (where I listen for messages) Maria Muldaur sang an old field holler. Here are some of the words that stayed with me: “It’s a blessing just to call my savior’s name. It’s a blessing just to be alive. It’s a blessing to be on the land. If my heart is breaking, I take it as my portion. It’s a blessing just to call my savior’s name.”

Random shuffle, ocean waves and earphones have been a blessing. And I have found another blessing: stepping outside every night on the fire escape near my bedroom. If the night is particularly warm and inviting, I might go down the stairs and find a place to sit. But even a few moments of night’s stillness and the sounds in that stillness restore me. The construction noise has ceased. Traffic is less frequent and farther away. The last two nights I’ve heard spring peepers.

Spring has come unseasonably early this year after a negligible winter. The aconites have already gone by, and the daffodils are about to bloom. Yesterday I asked a client if she’d like to walk during our session as we sometimes do when the weather is warm. “It’s nice out,” she said, “but it’s creepy nice. It’s not supposed to be this warm yet.” In addition, though it was almost sunset, the machines were still going full tilt. So we stayed in.

Though there are still people in denial, sadly some of them with disproportionate political and economic power, most of us know that we are experiencing what I call global weirdness, because overall global warming doesn’t always mean it’s warmer in any one location. Last winter, for example, we had more snow than usual. More heat means more storms, as witness the recent devastation by tornados in the South and Midwest.

Last night the waning moon hadn’t risen yet. The stars were huge and bright. I felt keenly the blessing of being able to gaze at stars shining beyond the weirdness we have made for ourselves. I felt the blessing of being on land that is at least quiet in the night, something I know not to take for granted. My heart breaks over many things, some personal, some not. But every now and then I remember, it’s a blessing just to be alive.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maeve's Mothers on Birth Control

In the current political climate (perhaps another manifestation of global weirdness) when birth control has (astoundingly) become a subject of debate, we thought Maeve’s mothers should lend their wisdom. Only two of the eight mothers are represented here, and the passage has been edited for brevity, but we believe their advice offers a much needed corrective. The passage concludes with a clarion call to all women. Enjoy! –Maeve and Elizabeth

For the unabridged version see Magdalen Rising, chapter 14: “What Your Mothers Never Told You.”

"What do you think, Boann?" said Fand. "Given our Maeve's impetuous nature, perhaps we ought to have a little talk with her. It occurs to me that her knowledge of relations between the sexes may be more theoretical than practical."

"Maybe we'd better start by finding out how much she does know," suggested Boann. "Maeve, do you know what Fand and I were doing last night?"

"You were offering King Bran the friendship of your thighs," I answered, proving that their tales of Queen Maeve of Connacht had not been lost on me.

"Well, yes." They smirked again, embarrassed but clearly enjoying themselves. "Now, do you know exactly what that means?"

"I've seen pigs and sheep." I did my best to sound bored. "I know which parts go together."

"Er, quite," said Fand, a little nonplused. "But did you know that people often -- not always, mind you, but often -- do it face to face? It adds a certain... je ne sais quoi."

"Most animals can't do it face to face," said Boann thoughtfully. "Comes of having four legs, I suppose. Think of trying to do it frontally with hooves."

"Well now, Boann, I have to say, I don't think it's just the number of legs." Fand gave her agile mind to the conundrum. "It's just that other animals don't walk upright. Therefore, the head in relation to the legs makes it difficult to embrace frontally. Don't you see?"

I knew from experience that any two or more of my mothers were capable of pursuing a bizarre tangent indefinitely. Now that we were on the subject -- you might say the subject -- I realized there might be more I did want to know.

"Okay. So people do it face to face," I broke in.

"With either partner on top," added Fand.

"Or both on their sides, don't forget," said Boann.

"Or standing. And remember the rear entry position is an option."

"Fand, I just thought of a great one." Boann was getting into to it. "Hanging upside down from a tree branch. Have you ever tried that?"

"I have, but I don't recommend it for beginners or for people with back problems."

"I disagree. I think it's an excellent position for people with back problems. It puts all the strain on the thighs."

"How old do you have to be?" I got right to the point, the one that mattered most to me. "When can I do it?"

Fand and Boann stared at each other, looking pretty dumb for a couple of shrewd witches. They had stumbled right into the pitfall especially reserved for enlightened parents. They prided themselves on their ability to impart information, but they couldn't make the leap to application. Talk about a gap between the theoretical and the practical.

"Well, Maeve, that all depends."

"On what?"

"Why, on whether or not you're ready." Boann sounded vague.

"And we don't think you are," Fand hastened to add. "You have to be mature, responsible...."

"Fand, I think we better get down to brass tacks. We don't have much time left. We can't have her getting pregnant."

"She can always say no. Abstinence is the better part of valor."


"Ha!" snorted Boann. "Believe it! Listen, Maeve, let's get one thing straight. If you get pregnant -- you do know how that happens, don't you? That's what we've been talking about -- you might have to leave college. King Bran told us that the druids are admitting women for the first time this year. It's being regarded as an experiment by the druids and by the priestesses of Holy Isle."

"What happens if I do get pregnant?" I was careful to keep my voice neutral. I didn't want them to guess that I might not mind having twenty years of schooling cut short.

"That's just it. We don't know. Boann, we must have a conference with the priestesses before we go. They must have some sort of contingency plan. And surely they're planning to teach the girls how to protect themselves."

"Yes, but we can't leave sex education to the schools, Fand!"

"So educate me, already!"

I wasn't interested in the druid's open admission policy and the repercussions of pregnancy. I wanted something I could apply to myself -- and Esus.

"All right. Now, Maeve, you know about the moon?"

"The moon?" It took me a moment to sort out this apparent non sequetor.

"Yes. The moon goes through phases like a woman. Or a woman goes through phases like the moon. At the dark we bleed, and at the full --"

"We're horny as hell," broke in Boann. "Here's the catch, Maeve. At the full moon, you're most likely to get pregnant. But it's also the time you're most likely to get laid. Or to want to, anyway. "

"Don't mislead her, Boann. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. You see, Maeve, on Tir na mBan we're eight witches cycling together. Just us and the animals, and the moon and the tides. Very low stress. Nothing to break the rhythm. But you are young, away from home for the first time, and you're excitable -- to put it mildly. Anything could throw off your courses. You can't count on counting."

"Still," Boann insisted, "she ought to understand the theory. Even when she's out of sync with the sky, she ought to learn to know when her own moon is full. Do you know the signs, Maeve?"

I nodded. "It's as if you're an egg cracked open. You're all runny with egg white."

"You have to admit, our Maeve can turn a phrase." Boann beamed at me.

"If you know that much, then you better know not to go frying any cracked eggs in the bushes," admonished Fand freely mixing metaphors and euphemisms.

"But, Fand, that's just when she's most likely to lose her head."

"And her maidenhead."

"We should have thought of this." Boann was rueful. "We could have given her a supply of those seeds. You know, what-do-ya-call-ems. But it's not seed time now, even if we could find them. Still, maybe the priestesses have a store of them."

"There's stones," suggested Fand. "Listen, Maeve, as soon as you can, find a smooth flat stone, preferably from the beach. Before you do anything --and as I said I really don't think you ought to -- put it inside you as far up as you can."

I stared at her unbelieving. I could not connect stone with the glimmering I had of "it" as something hot, live, melting.

"It blocks the seed from reaching fertile ground," Boann explained. "Which is to say, your womb. Certain kinds of dried seaweed also work."

"Oh, I wish we had time to show you," fretted Fand. "I wish we had thought of this on Tir na mBan. We could have given you lessons, demonstrations. When I think of all the time we wasted on sword play and spear casting."

"Well, not wasted entirely," put in Boann. "It did improve her hand-eye coordination. But it’s no use moaning over missed opportunity. We've got to tell her as much as we can right now. There's one thing we haven't mentioned yet, and it's the most important of all."

"I can't think what we haven't thought of."

"Sovereignty," said Boann solemnly.

"Oh, yes, of course, sovereignty."

Sovereignty! I pricked up my ears. For the sake of her sovereignty, Queen Maeve of Connacht had fought to win the brown bull. "Fight for our sovereignty," she had urged me.

"Pay attention, Maeve," said Fand. "Never go with a man -- or a woman, come to that -- unless you want to."

"Not to please. Not to placate," Boann chimed in.

"Never on any terms but your own."

"Should we tell her about love?" wondered Fand.

"Doesn't love complicate matters unnecessarily?" Boann was dubious. "I've heard it sometimes results in temporary insanity."

"And what about marriage?" persisted Fand. "I confess I've never fully understood its purpose, but Queen Maeve of Connacht seems to have managed to have one on her own terms, though there was that unfortunate mix-up over the bulls. I believe marriage often leads to cattle wars."

(a chunk taken out for brevity)

"Tir na mBan stands for the sovereignty of women," concluded Fand. "If it exists nowhere else in the world, it exists there. Remember that, Maeve. Sovereignty is your birthright and your inheritance. Next to sovereignty, gold torques and brooches are mere trinkets. Never surrender your sovereignty, Maeve. Carry it with you wherever you go."

Their words were stirring but abstract. Then an image rose in my mind of myself as a sort of floating island, shining, a sovereign vessel on a vast and dangerous sea.