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RightNation.US: A Pagan Goddess Under the Sign of the Mouse - RightNation.US

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Now that Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code is about to become a movie, I finally broke down and read the thing. All I can say is this:

If I were Salman Rushdie, I would want to slap the crap out of Dan Brown.

This has nothing to do with the fact that Rushdie's a writer of serious literature whereas Dan Brown's a producer of bankable potboilers--Rushdie's books are readable and fun, and Code carries surprising intellectual weight. It's just that the two authors, despite tackling comparable subject matter, have seen their efforts rewarded in drastically different ways.

When Rushdie revised the early history of Islam in The Satanic Verses, the Ayatollah Khomeini placed a price on his head. Forced to live under close guard for a decade, Rushdie survived an attempt on his life. He now dines out largely on his status as the nearest thing to a martyr the Western literary world has produced since the Third Reich fell.

In Code, Brown pulls a Rushdie in the sense that he tweaks a major world religion by proposing an alternate version of its foundation. For his target, Brown wisely chooses Christianity, which has, these past three or four centuries, borne critcism with admirable grace. Even more wisely--brilliantly, truth be told--Brown serves up his revision extra-lite. Despite all the buzz, and the 4.5 million copies sold, and the big-screen adapation starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, due to hit theaters next month, Brown's book hasn't made anyone want to kill him. Not even Salman Rushdie.

Brown reheats the old chestnut about Jesus having been married--to Mary Magadelene, on whom he sired a daughter, Sara. Defying his boss' wishes, Peter ("a bit of a sexist," as one of Brown's characters quips) squeezes both females out of Church government and forces them to flee to Gaul. Even as the Catholic Church tosses their gospels out of the canon, secret societies continue to worship them as incarnations of the divine feminine, their special province covering childbirth and fertility. Their symbol, the chalice, eventually becomes enshrined in the Western imagination as...the Holy Grail.

Brown weaves all this into a mystery along with murders, car chases, Vatican intrigues, modern-day flagellant sects, hidden messages in Da Vinci paintings, and some truly breathtaking descriptions of Gothic architecture. The one element he takes care to keep family-friendly is the Goddess-worship that, according to his thesis, Jesus meant for his followers to practice. Here, Brown's hero, Robert Langdon, counsels his sleuthing partner, Sophie Neveu, on the ins and outs, so to speak, of Hiero Gamos, a pagan sex ritual in which she once saw her grandfather engaged:

Sex begat new life--the ultimate miracle--and miracles could be performed only by a God. The ability of the woman to produce life from the womb made her sacred. A god. Intercourse was the revered halves of the human spirit--male and female--could find wholeness and communion with God. What you saw was not about sex. It was about spirituality.


Langdon goes on to reassure Sophie--and us--that Magdalene's story must be kosher, because it has been retold by Disney in Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and The Little Mermaid. We're left to conclude that the Goddess would have poxed the Burger Court for Roe v. Wade, and avoided the Lilith Fair--except maybe to curse the Port-o-Jonnies.

As any student of ancient religions knows, goddesses weren't always so Carol Brady as that. Aphrodite started the Trojan War to upstage her fellow Olympians. Athena once turned an ambitious young weaver into a spider--basically, to protect her own monopoly on the trade. Their worshippers were even weirder. Hindus used to curry favor with the goddess Kali by strangling travelers on the Grand Trunk Road. Priests of Cybele would castrate themselves and dress in drag--on the very same day, yet. Real bacchanals? Imagine holding Spring Break in the middle of a Brazilian soccer riot.

Rushdie gets it. In his revision of Islam's early days--which plays out, somewhat confusingly, in a dream dreamt by one of his main characters--a figure resembling the Prophet Muhammad considers raising three traditional Arabian goddesses, al-Lat, Uzza, and Manat, to the dignity of archangels, or "daughters of Allah." Black, winged and defiant ("We are nobody's daughters," brags one of them), these critters would never have been cast in Disney's Alladin. Nor would their chief follower, an enchantress named Hind, who orders up lovers like dim sum and dines on the livers of her enemies. Make it through Verses and you'll have to admit that the divine feminine is every bit as willful, volatile and seductive as any of her mortal counterparts.

But even with its goddess dressed in gingham, Code pulls off little miracles. Who would have imagined that a novel set largely in museums and crammed with Cliff Notes on the history of art, architecture, and theology would attract more readers than Jackass has viewers? Or that so many red-state residents would suffer their imaginations to be pulled to France? No book yielding a script that bags more American work for Audrey Tautou can be all bad. Yes, Code is light fare--think of it as perfect in-flight reading: just long enough to last through a cross-country flight, and a heck of a lot safer, at any rate, than The Satanic Verses.
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7 Comments On This Entry

That is a good point. Rushdie gets death threats and Brown gets a movie deal. Now which one is the religion of peace?
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First things first, though I realize this was not the main point of this article. I had always heard that "The Satanic Verses" was a really dry read. Are you saying that it was interesting?

Okay, on to the points you brought out. Since I haven't studied any Greek or Roman mythology much at all since my school days, I don't recall all the examples that you cited in regards to goddesses. For some perverse reason, I use to really get into both Greek and Roman mythology but apparently haven't retained much of it. That was a great insight you brought out with these comparisons. I do believe you are right with your assertion that the character Hind would never have been cast in Disney's "Alladin". :giggle: Not yet anyway.

I haven't read Dan Brown's book myself and I have no intention of reading it but I have heard an awful lot about it, or so I thought. I had no idea it included goddess worshiping. That's even worse than what I've heard. I know, I know, I'm an old fuddy-duddy. Still, how ridiculous! Then the idea that women are gods . . . give me a break.

No wonder it is doing so well. How many times have I heard those of feminists leanings complain because God is a man in the Bible?

I personally believe that part of the reason this book has done so well is because there are so many people who call themselves Christian by birth, who don't really have much Biblical knowledge. These are the people that I'm afraid will be misled. Go ahead, call me a close-minded fundie. B)
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ilja, on Apr 30 2006, 08:10 PM, said:

Go ahead, call me a close-minded fundie. :D

Never! Nevaaawww! In many ways, I may be moreso. You're just so polite about it, ilja. But if I'm not as polite, why do I get along so well with Pickle and Boadicea? :D Go figyah!
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Ultra GOPlander, on May 1 2006, 11:01 PM, said:

ilja, on Apr 30 2006, 08:10 PM, said:

Go ahead, call me a close-minded fundie. :D

Never! Nevaaawww! In many ways, I may be moreso. You're just so polite about it, ilja. But if I'm not as polite, why do I get along so well with Pickle and Boadicea? :D Go figyah!

Because you are so ultra-cute, they can't resist you. ;)
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Well written Mooga, but I think missed the mark on a few points. The Greek word is 'hamartia', which also means sin. Your sin is leading people astray just as Dan Brown did. For example:

--The Hiero Gamos wasn't solely a Pagan institution. Early Christians also practiced it. Some, like the Carpocrateans, took it literally. Others, like the Valentenians, celebrated it symbolically during their services. The Hiero Gamos isn't about sex but about the harmony of opposites; it's the stage in your life when there is no distinction or separation between you and your higher power. It was one of the early Sacraments of the Church until it was modified into the Sacrament of Marriage. Why? Well, up until the tenth century marriage was a civil matter in Europe with a casual blessing by a religious leader. When the Church realized it could make money from it, then it was Christianized.

--The priests of Cybele castrated themselves not because of the goddess but because of the god, Attis. He cheated on her and, out of guilt, cut off his twig and two veggies.

--The concept of salvation began with the Mystery Religions. The goddess aspect, in the context of the mystery religion, was far different than the banal one heard in mythologies. After the Mystery Religions spread in Greece after the sixth century BC, goddesses like Isis, Demeter, and Hecate became vehicles for salvation, not forces of nature, as did their male counterparts. Even Jews in the diaspora and later Romans participated in Mystery Religions.

--Saint Paul's works certainly have all the markings of a Mystery Religion. In fact, if you trace his journey in The Bible, you'll notice that he took the same path as did Orpheus, the father of Mystery Religions, and as well Apollonious of Tyana, who was the Greco/Roman version of Jesus.

But 'The Da Vinci Code' is cotton candy, at best, and is replete with innacuracies. But the reality is that it has touched a nerve in Christianity. Why? Well, the same reason 'The Gospel of Judas' has-- Christians are realizing that it have been robbed of something special, that our spiritual leaders have not given us all the elements of the original Christianity.

Fundies and Orthodox Christians will deny this until the end because change is not something they look forward to. Nobody likes change, and once we find something that (seemingly) works for us we'll defend it until the end. But they might as well keep trying to plug up the dam.

ETA-- and like, Ilja, I thought 'The Satanic Verses' was boooooring. Even my Muslim friends who read it said it much ado about nothing. Just because you're an intellectual doesn't mean your sh!t doesn't stink.
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catholicsufi, on May 2 2006, 10:17 AM, said:

Well written Mooga, but I think missed the mark on a few points. The Greek word is 'hamartia', which also means sin. Your sin is leading people astray just as Dan Brown did. For example:

--The Hiero Gamos wasn't solely a Pagan institution. Early Christians also practiced it. Some, like the Carpocrateans, took it literally. Others, like the Valentenians, celebrated it symbolically during their services. The Hiero Gamos isn't about sex but about the harmony of opposites; it's the stage in your life when there is no distinction or separation between you and your higher power. It was one of the early Sacraments of the Church until it was modified into the Sacrament of Marriage. Why? Well, up until the tenth century marriage was a civil matter in Europe with a casual blessing by a religious leader. When the Church realized it could make money from it, then it was Christianized.

--The priests of Cybele castrated themselves not because of the goddess but because of the god, Attis. He cheated on her and, out of guilt, cut off his twig and two veggies.

--The concept of salvation began with the Mystery Religions. The goddess aspect, in the context of the mystery religion, was far different than the banal one heard in mythologies. After the Mystery Religions spread in Greece after the sixth century BC, goddesses like Isis, Demeter, and Hecate became vehicles for salvation, not forces of nature, as did their male counterparts. Even Jews in the diaspora and later Romans participated in Mystery Religions.

--Saint Paul's works certainly have all the markings of a Mystery Religion. In fact, if you trace his journey in The Bible, you'll notice that he took the same path as did Orpheus, the father of Mystery Religions, and as well Apollonious of Tyana, who was the Greco/Roman version of Jesus.

But 'The Da Vinci Code' is cotton candy, at best, and is replete with innacuracies. But the reality is that it has touched a nerve in Christianity. Why? Well, the same reason 'The Gospel of Judas' has-- Christians are realizing that it have been robbed of something special, that our spiritual leaders have not given us all the elements of the original Christianity.

Fundies and Orthodox Christians will deny this until the end because change is not something they look forward to. Nobody likes change, and once we find something that (seemingly) works for us we'll defend it until the end. But they might as well keep trying to plug up the dam.

ETA-- and like, Ilja, I thought 'The Satanic Verses' was boooooring. Even my Muslim friends who read it said it much ado about nothing. Just because you're an intellectual doesn't mean your sh!t doesn't stink.


Thanks for your very erudite critique, Sufi. Regarding my hamartia, all I can do is utter a Homeric "D'oh!" and try to do better next time.

I can believe that Christ was married, and that he intended that some female creative principle be worshipped along with the rest of the Godhead. Dan Brown's version just bugged me because it was so ruthlessly sanitized. He handles the whole notion of sex-as-sacrament with tongs, as though he expects all us prudes to crap our pants at the very thought of it. He depicts the Goddess as some--some heavenly soccer mom, very different from the complex and awesome figures worshipped by the ancients.

Maybe I'm easy to please, but I really enjoyed The Satanic Verses. You and your friends (and Rushdie himself) are right: it isn't a hatchet job on Islam at all, just a very long meditation on voices and muses and creativity. Pretentious? Sure. But Rushdie's voice, his knack for wordplay and puns and dialects, made it worth my while to read. And you have to admit that Rushdie's images of goddesses--Hind, Al-Lat, Ayesha the Butterfly Witch--come a lot closer to capturing the contradictions of the divine feminine than Dan Brown was able to do.
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Mooga, on May 2 2006, 12:58 PM, said:

catholicsufi, on May 2 2006, 10:17 AM, said:

Well written Mooga, but I think missed the mark on a few points. The Greek word is 'hamartia', which also means sin. Your sin is leading people astray just as Dan Brown did. For example:

--The Hiero Gamos wasn't solely a Pagan institution. Early Christians also practiced it. Some, like the Carpocrateans, took it literally. Others, like the Valentenians, celebrated it symbolically during their services. The Hiero Gamos isn't about sex but about the harmony of opposites; it's the stage in your life when there is no distinction or separation between you and your higher power. It was one of the early Sacraments of the Church until it was modified into the Sacrament of Marriage. Why? Well, up until the tenth century marriage was a civil matter in Europe with a casual blessing by a religious leader. When the Church realized it could make money from it, then it was Christianized.

--The priests of Cybele castrated themselves not because of the goddess but because of the god, Attis. He cheated on her and, out of guilt, cut off his twig and two veggies.

--The concept of salvation began with the Mystery Religions. The goddess aspect, in the context of the mystery religion, was far different than the banal one heard in mythologies. After the Mystery Religions spread in Greece after the sixth century BC, goddesses like Isis, Demeter, and Hecate became vehicles for salvation, not forces of nature, as did their male counterparts. Even Jews in the diaspora and later Romans participated in Mystery Religions.

--Saint Paul's works certainly have all the markings of a Mystery Religion. In fact, if you trace his journey in The Bible, you'll notice that he took the same path as did Orpheus, the father of Mystery Religions, and as well Apollonious of Tyana, who was the Greco/Roman version of Jesus.

But 'The Da Vinci Code' is cotton candy, at best, and is replete with innacuracies. But the reality is that it has touched a nerve in Christianity. Why? Well, the same reason 'The Gospel of Judas' has-- Christians are realizing that it have been robbed of something special, that our spiritual leaders have not given us all the elements of the original Christianity.

Fundies and Orthodox Christians will deny this until the end because change is not something they look forward to. Nobody likes change, and once we find something that (seemingly) works for us we'll defend it until the end. But they might as well keep trying to plug up the dam.

ETA-- and like, Ilja, I thought 'The Satanic Verses' was boooooring. Even my Muslim friends who read it said it much ado about nothing. Just because you're an intellectual doesn't mean your sh!t doesn't stink.


Thanks for your very erudite critique, Sufi. Regarding my hamartia, all I can do is utter a Homeric "D'oh!" and try to do better next time.

I can believe that Christ was married, and that he intended that some female creative principle be worshipped along with the rest of the Godhead. Dan Brown's version just bugged me because it was so ruthlessly sanitized. He handles the whole notion of sex-as-sacrament with tongs, as though he expects all us prudes to crap our pants at the very thought of it. He depicts the Goddess as some--some heavenly soccer mom, very different from the complex and awesome figures worshipped by the ancients.

Maybe I'm easy to please, but I really enjoyed The Satanic Verses. You and your friends (and Rushdie himself) are right: it isn't a hatchet job on Islam at all, just a very long meditation on voices and muses and creativity. Pretentious? Sure. But Rushdie's voice, his knack for wordplay and puns and dialects, made it worth my while to read. And you have to admit that Rushdie's images of goddesses--Hind, Al-Lat, Ayesha the Butterfly Witch--come a lot closer to capturing the contradictions of the divine feminine than Dan Brown was able to do.


You're right about that. People do like their divinity package in a New Age wrapper these days. Once again, like shunting aside the feminine divine, they have missed so many marks like:

--Buddha isn't only depicted as a jolly fat man but as a fire-breathing demon wielding a katana in many paintings. Imagine Kill Bill 3!
--The nice, dancing Shiva becomes Kali and not only will tear your soul apart but slice up all the nice gods of Hinduism.
--YHWH...oh boy...we all now how he gets when he's in a bad mood.
--Trickster gods bring knowledge to mankind but also much pain.
--Hecate is just a mega bitch!
--Jesus returns with a sword.
--And so forth...

But I think most people tend to take these divine manifestations too literally. Yeah, gods bring pain but their destructive nature is meant to strip a person of all the temporal attachments a person has. Once you've been pruned of all that you know and hold dear, then you'll be light enough to ascend beyond the dichotomy of good and evil. Then you are worthy.

In Buddhism, when you die, you travel down to Hell and then up to Heaven. If you can stand Heaven after being pruned by Hell, then you get to stay. If you don't, back to earth with you!

In Islam, even if you are chosen for Heaven, you still have to walk this narrow pathway through Hell. Watch your step, Osama!

And, of course, we Christians have New Jersey and Jews have Jewish women. :D


ETA-- please tell me Ginger or Newly don't read your blog!
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