SAAM 2017: Engaging New Voices

The theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month is Engaging New Voices. According to the NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center), the targets for involvement are: Greek life members, Coaches, Fathers and Faith Leaders. It’s one of those occasions where I get to don my faith leader hat and use it to further an important cause.

I’m Pagan. Those words are already a turn off to a lot of people, and I know that. All it means is that I find the divine in nature. I think that’s pretty amicable grounds-Chrsitians often cite nature as a way to prove their beliefs. Islam’s holy book is filled with depictions of nature. It’s universal because it surrounds us. But I’m bringing this up for a different reason.

A LOT of mythologies contain depictions of assault. Native stories about Coyote have them, Celtic stories, Norse stories, Greek and Roman traditions, even Slavic ones. And there are mentions of it in Judeo-Christian texts as well. It would seem, from the beginning of the written word (at least), sexual assault has occured. I think though, the most well-known story about it is Medusa. This story is one that I hold dear-but for a little different reasons. I’ve told other people, but I think it’s a really good lesson for others as well, plus it fits with the current climate.


(Cellini, 1554)

The version that is spread around in academic settings, and even in pop culture is the following.

Enter Medusa, an incredibly beautiful woman who devoted herself to her beliefs. She worshipped the goddess Athena, who was a virginal goddess-meaning her followers would also be virgins. Poseidon, god of the sea, seeing that Medusa was beautiful, came to visit her and try to woo her. Medusa was devout and refused his advances, returning inside the temple to pray. Poseidon followed after her and raped her. Athena, then angry, cursed Medusa to live as a Gorgon-a winged snake woman with snakes for hair and eyes that turned men to stone. Medusa is then killed by Perseus and her head was removed and used later. Perseus is hailed a hero, having vanquished a foe, with the help of other gods.

But that’s not the version I know. Here’s the version I learned.

Medusa, an incredibly beautiful and intelligent woman, lived her life devoted to her faith. She worshipped the goddess Athena, known for her wisdom and strategy, as well as being a virginal goddess. Her followers, then, chose to remain chaste as well. Poseidon, god of the sea and enemy of Athena, saw that Medusa was beautiful and came to visit her, to try to woo her and make her one of his followers instead. Medusa refused his advances, returning to the temple to pray in safety. Poseidon, angry at her rejection, followed her and raped her, then left. Athena returned to her temple to find Medusa, no longer a virgin, crying. Athena told Medusa that she could no longer be a servant in the temple, but that Athena would like to help her. When asked what she needed, Medusa told Athena that she needed a way to protect herself from all who would harm her. Athena then turned Medusa into a Gorgon, giving her the power to stop anyone who came to harm her in her tracks.

The first version is told from a male perspective. Perseus conquers the monster and sets everything back in balance. The thing I couldn’t ever get past was Athena punishing Medusa for being raped. That wasn’t her fault. Rape is NEVER the victim’s fault. And for the longest time, I felt like mythology had made a giant mistake. Until I came across the version I know. Instead of punishing someone who was already punished, the victim became a survivor. And that’s why I share that story.

Sexual Assault and Rape and Domestic Violence is not the victim’s fault. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, the clothing, the drinks, the location.  That’s why SAAM is important. 

Rape culture isn’t a new concept. It’s not a myth. 

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LGBT+ (SAGA) Representation in Norse Mythology

NERD ALERT XD

Hi all! I wrote a term paper (very short-only 5 pages) for my Norse Mythology class, over gender roles and orientation. I focused specifically on a couple instances, but also mainly on intersex/two-spirit representation. I’d loved to have done more with it, but there was a page limit-so it’s all pretty vague. However, I’m going to copy/paste it here because I’d love to spark a conversation. Now, I know, the citation method is vague-we were only allowed to use sources we broke down for the class, so we didn’t need to be ultra specific. Anyway, I thought it might be interesting.

I kept the Scandinavian words, so I thought perhaps a little “translation” would be useful. Some words I used I explain in the paper, so I’ll leave those out.

Njörðr=Njord, Oðin=Odin, Þórr=Thor, jötun=”giants”, Æsir=gods, Vanir=other gods, Skaði=Skadi the “giantess”, Balðr=Baldr/Balder

Gender roles have been prescribed ubiquitously throughout time and space, as a cultural norm. Gender, being the ascribed and associated expectations, previously linked with biological sex, for many cultures remained a bilateral (masculine and feminine) issue. Norse culture is a prime example of this two gender focus, however, within the mythology which predates the Christian conversion, there are also examples of individuals (Njörðr and Loki) who cross the divide and end up somewhere in the middle. These individuals are not necessarily ostracized from their communities, but they are not regarded as favorably either (as opposed to Oðin and Þórr, for example).

Þórr, as an archetypical thunder god (Gylfaginning), displays the masculine qualities of strength, courage and his status as a male in society is reinforced by several choices seen in the mythology. Married to a woman whose name means “kinship” (Hárbarðsljóð), Þórr raises several children and is frequently traveling to contests of strength in the land of the giants (Hárbarðsljóð). When Freyja comes into danger of being taken by the jötun, it is Þórr who is called to save her (Þrymskviða). Although the method used calls into question his masculinity, the actions done to fix the situation-using his hammer to kill the groom (Þrymskviða) remain, on the whole, masculine.

Oðin on the other hand, regularly engages in seiðr, a type of magic reserved for specifically women, and is regarded as a wise, older man (Hárbarðsljóð). When accused of ergi (extreme unmanliness), rather than defending himself, Oðin acknowledges the charges and uses his wit to remove the focus from himself, as shown in Hárbarðsljóð. Oðin is held in high regard wherever he goes, causing havoc and mayhem as he travels to ascertain wisdom (Völuspá). His choices of behavior are, albeit destructive, things which cause his children to claim relationship to him and other people respect the lineage (Þórsdrápa) and use relation to him to gain access to things previously unavailable, such as entry into a house from which he’d previously been banished (Lokasenna).

Njörðr enters Norse mythology as a member of the Vanir, a separate lineage of beings who, post-war, join the Æsir (Skáldskaparmál).Njörðr’s name itself presents the earliest evidence that perhaps he belonged to the select group of individuals who crossed the boundary (liminals) between masculine and feminine-but were not able to escape it. Njörðr seems to have been an individual who, at one point either had a sister or a wife with a similar name (lecture) who was also worshipped-as a mother goddess (Germania). This divided name is seen in Njörðr’s children: Freyja and Freyr as well (Skáldskaparmál). Although there are no records stating the existence of a female version of Njörðr, there is evidence that someone of similar name received cult in a female form (lecture).

Njörðr sustains his role in the mythology as being the hostage in treaty events (Skáldskaparmál). When Skaði, a jötun woman came to avenge her father’s death, she was offered a husband and entertainment (Skáldskaparmál). By visual trickery (having to pick out her intended by looking for his feet), Skaði ended up picking Njörðr (who had nice feet) (Skáldskaparmál). This marriage was not one which mirrored that of Þórr and “Kinship”, but was rather dysfunctional. Half of the year was spent living in Njörðr’s home and the other half was spent living in Skaði’s deceased father’s home (Gylfaginning). This shows the incompatibility and lessened masculinity because this was a patrilocal society (lecture), meaning the married couple would live exclusively with the male half, in his home. Skaði being the mother of Freyja and Freyr is also debatable, as the Vanir were known to practice incestuous relationships (lecture). This further lends the way for a feminine Njörðr.

Njörðr is mentioned one more time in the remains of the mythology. As Loki enters a feast after being thrown out, he insults everyone who takes the time to speak-including Njörðr (Lokasenna). Njörðr is called the “pisspot of giantesses” (Lokasenna). While this act in-and-of itself is not masculine, the interpretation varies as well. Þórr once dams up a giantess who is making a river swell-either by urinating in the river or menstruating in it (Skáldskaparmál). If the giantesses were not urinating so much as menstruating into Njörðr, this would demonstrate something which he cannot do being a man, but also de-masculinizes him by being a receptacle for such.

Loki is often seen as a liminal of gender as well. Loki aids Þórr in saving Freyja, by dressing up as Þórr’s handmaiden (Þrymskviða). As their journey starts out, Loki makes a comment about traveling as women, although he leaves out the subject (giving him a way to remove ergi from Þórr) (lecture). Loki is also clean-shaven, something which would not have happened in that culture at that time, as evidenced by the story of two sons who grew beards when their father could not and were accused of smearing their faces with feces (lecture).

Loki too was married, although his marriage seemed to have been much more functional than Njörðr’s. Loki’s wife, Sigyn, had children by him and was beside him each time he was tied up with a poisonous snake over top of him (Gylfaginning). What is important to mention about Loki, however, is not that his marriage was functional, but that he was capable of birthing children as well-and did so. Loki turned into a mare and became the mother of Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of Oðin (Hyndluljóð). This pregnancy comes up again when Loki insults the other beings, as Oðin claims Loki spent eight winters milking cows under the earth (Lokasenna). Since milking cows was considered women’s work by that culture, this further illustrates the crossover from masculine to feminine behavior.

Throughout the insults of Loki, those which were returned to him were accusations of ergi (unrivaled unmanliness). It is Oðin that mentions milking cows (Lokasenna) but Njörðr also speaks up, and so does Þórr (Lokasenna). This does not stop Loki from continuing his insults, but forces him to direct his words to the sins of the others, such as Þórr hiding in a glove from a giant (Lokasenna). The names used to refer to Loki by others include “womanish god”, “unmanly one” and names which are directly linked to his children, such as “wolf’s father” (Lokasenna). This is in sharp contrast with Þórr, who self-refers by his kinship ties (Hárbarðsljóð) and is not thought of an unmanly in the slightest.

In the marriage arrangement of Skaði and Njörðr, Loki is part of the arrangement. Skaði, in exchange for blood vengeance, is promised a husband (making her part of the Æsir potentially) and entertainment (Skáldskaparmál). Although Njörðr supplies the husband aspect, it is up to Loki to fill in the rest. Loki ties his testicles to the beard of a nanny goat and they have a tug-of-war until Loki falls over (Skáldskaparmál). This story is important when the goat is examined. A nanny goat is a female goat, but it possesses two very male traits: a beard and horns (lecture). The act of tying a very male part of his anatomy to a male part of a female goat’s anatomy is representative of Loki’s identity. Although male by biology, Loki makes behavioral choices which are not always indicative of his masculinity, up to and including becoming pregnant.

Members of Norse culture would have heard these tales before the conversion, and perhaps even after Snorri recorded them. As a euhemeristic version of a pagan religion, the core group of individuals (Þórr, Oðin, Freyja and the like) were linked to Troy (Gylfaginning) as being the key figures, the ancestral line which led to the Norse peoples and therefore represented the ideal gender roles: men being strong, witty, fit for battle and women being mothers, dealing with cows and marriageable. Although flawed, members of this core group (the Æsir) could “toe the line” between gender roles without suffering socially. Members of outside groups, such as the Vanir-like Njörðr or the jötun-like Loki, were looked at differently from the get go.

Members of the outside groups like the Vanir and the jötun were not seen as equal in the hierarchy of gods, unless they married one of the Æsir. This hierarchy extended further to rank the individuals by how closely they fit the socially acceptable gender roles. Individuals like Njörðr and Loki crossed the boundary in ways which were necessary and beneficial to the entire group and were therefore allowed to do so, but were not able to reach their hierarchical potential-even with blood-brother status.

The usefulness of liminals like Njörðr came down to protecting the “purity” of the Æsir. Njörðr took the place of Balðr in the marriage of Skaði, a jötun. This marriage allowed for the Æsir to avoid bloodshed, but also did not allow a pureblood jötun individual to reach a rank equal to a member of the Æsir. Njörðr also played the role of hostage, a way to get the Æsir-Vanir war to end. His transfer from Vanir to Æsir allowed him to move up in rank from his people, but never allowed him to fully integrate into Æsir status. Loki proved useful in situations which required diplomacy and wit. When Freyja was demanded as a bride (and thereby an attack on the hierarchy) it was Loki who came up with a solution-one which relied on his unmanliness. Loki’s horse-child Sleipnir became the greatest horse, which then belonged to Oðin, increasing the prestige of the Æsir.

While Loki and Njörðr were not specifically described as being gender fluid, intersex (formerly hermaphrodite) or two-spirit, there is evidence to suggest that their behavior was not only an aversion to the gender roles of the time, but useful. Their usefulness was dependent on them being able to use ascribed feminine traits (crossdressing, hairless face, marriageability, and children) to influence masculine behaviors.

****This is what I live for-it’s what I love doing. Seriously. Looking at mythologies and picking out the bits of it which apply to today, which explain how people thought. I could have written so much more about this. Because there is nothing in this great wide world that makes me more intrigued than spirituality and the occult and mythologies. This is my very favorite thing to discuss. Honestly. I can’t stress enough how much I love this.

And as a side note, if anyone is interested, I can absolutely post more things like this, including but not limited to other papers/essays I’ve written. I can also post the “actual” bibliography for this, if anyone would like it as well!

Critique Piece, Chapter 9

Hello all, I need some critiques on this passage. It’s for my NaNoWriMo novel. In the scene, I am killing off a secondary villain as well as my protagonist. Any thoughts you have would be lovely and appreciated. Sorry about the formatting, I can’t seem to get it the way I want it, so it’s just the way it is.
He held her by the jaw, his hands surprisingly warm, as the knife tenderly kissed her cheek. She screamed once more , the gag preventing her full volume but she’d really just wanted him to stop at any rate. He kept going, pressing the blade into the softest part of her face. It felt like white hot acid were being drawn across her cheek, the warmth of her blood flowing into the fabric securing her mouth and collecting. There was nothing she could do but scream, and yet it did nothing. Each swipe of his hand tore more of her humanity away than it did skin and Katerina was replaced with a trapped animal, fighting desperately for her right to live.
Tears pooled in her eyes, those which escaped mixing with the blood and just when she thought it could get no worse, he stopped. The pocket from which his knife came held one other metallic item which he traded the knife for. He opened the little mirror and showed her what he had done. She could just barely make out the two humps at the top and from the way his sickening grin was plastered over his pale face, she could only assume that the rest of the injury was a heart. He seemed like the sort of twisted person who would delight in the sick satisfaction of making his mark on all he came across. It seemed much smaller than it had felt, and she supposed she had the gag to thank.Her eyes moved to the other individual and as her worst nightmares came alive, her eyes gushed once more. The man from her dreams rocked back on his heels, noticing the direction her eyes had ventured. “Yes. It’s him. Would you like to say hello?”

Josh stumbled forward and caught sight of Katerina. Recognition didn’t cross his drunken face, but something else did.She’d seen it briefly the night she’d left the house in the care of Natalia and Ianna. 

“Shall I put her out of her misery, Alexander?” Josh’s voice slurred the words together, but they were unmistakable. Alexander, the man from her dream, looked back at him and moved out of the direct line. He took a moment in his move to pull down Katerina’s gag. He motioned for her to make her plea. She took a deep breath, steadied her nerves as best she could and watched Alexander remove himself from between them.

“I will not beg for my life from this pig. From either of you. Just do it.” Her cheek squelched with the injury, the pain from which screamed at her to stop. “I want to know why.” She swallowed the fluid in her mouth, the bitterness of bile, rusty pennies and saliva causing her to force it all down.

“You don’t even know who you are do you?” Alexander chuckled. “You’re the most crucial part of this plan and you haven’t even got an idea why. It’s a shame about all that, really. But someone should have told you before now. This is a task far more important than you.” His attention turned to Josh. “You will take the gun in your hand and you will use it on your useless self. Now.”

Josh’s face went blank, as though he felt nothing, knew nothing. He pulled a black object from his waistband and without hesitation put it to his head and pulled the trigger. He dropped to the ground and was no more. Katerina, although incredibly glad she would never be accosted by this man from her past again, found herself unable to do anything more than stare at the large hole where his head had been intact just moments before. He was bleeding out all over the dead leaves and she couldn’t find a reason to be sad about it. Alexander walked over and picked up the gun, waving it around.

“Now. It looks like we have business to discuss in private, then. You were born into a warring faction, you are the last living, direct descendent of the purest line of monarchs.” He waited for understanding to cross her face, but when it didn’t, he let out an exasperated sigh. “I can’t explain our entire history! You really should have pushed harder with those lunars to tell you about who you were, who your parents were. But you won’t have the chance now, I suppose. Really too bad about it, but I guess that’s the way destiny is sometimes. Anyway, the whole thing boils down to you have to die so that we can survive. As I said, nothing personal.” Alexander raised the gun to her chest, and offered one last time. “Any last words?”

“I hope you’re happy with yourself.” She began slowly. “Because in the end, I’ll be there, waiting for you when you least expect it.”

“I’m sorry, my dear, but I’m afraid you’ll already be dead.” The sound of the bullet never really registered with Katerina, as she closed her eyes, shock already taking over. There was a gurgle of blood before her body went limp. The bullet had gone straight into her heart. Alexander was pleased with his handiwork. He cut the bonds away, wanting the chance to gloat over her dead body. “Now I have the power. And you are just a casualty of war. You weren’t worthy of all that could have been yours anyway.” Alexander backed away and disappeared into the darkness.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like A Novel

I’ve been hard at work on my NaNoNovel and there are some really amazing things which have occured. 

First, I’ve crossed the 16k word mark (32% done with NaNoWriMo 2015)

Second, I have a working title: The Queen of Souls.

Third, what started out as a YA Fantasy has now evolved into a ParaRom (something I NEVER expected)

And in honor of all that, for you week 2 spoiler, I have a working synopsis. It may change, but I’m confident that the main bits will remain (however, within 9 days I switched genres, so who knows where we will be by the end!)

Katerina Alkaevna has suffered through everything: losing her family to a fire as a child, an abusive boyfriend and being kidnapped. The only thing she’s never had a chance to do is fall in love. Upon meeting a tall, dark and steamy barista in her local town, she realizes that love might actually be the worst thing to ever happen to her-and that’s after she dies.

 Fighting to end a decades long war between the monarchs and the wasps and bring not only herself, but also her lover back from the dead, Katerina must embrace her destiny or lose everything she’s worked for. A crime of passion put her in this position and it will take nothing less to get her untangled from the threads of fate.

Chapter 5

So today, I’ve been madly noveling, and although I am glad to have a break from homework, it’s interesting that I never really escape it. Today’s thankfulness comes from being 1/6 of the way to where I was before. But the thing is, I’m writing an entirely new book, and so I think I’m really only about a tenth of the way there, which is even more exciting to me. Anyway, what I’m truly thankful for is inspiration. For me, it comes from life, coffee and great playlists. I think that’s really great, and there’s something quite amazing about taking a blank page, a nothing, and creating an idea, a something. So, in honor of that, I’m going to offer a small segment of my WIP (work in progress) and go back to work. I chose this because it’s one of those scenes I can’t descide how to rework. [This is part of Chapter FIVE, the main character Kat is reading from an old book called The Love of the Queen of Souls. It’s the scene I just finished, and it’s easily the flimsiest but it serves a purpose and well, PLOT TWIST.]

           There was once a summer princess who longed for the chill kiss of winter. She craved the balance and poetry of the cold and the warmth. Her heart was met each day by the warmth of the sun and she could take it no longer. On the evening of her twenty seventh year, she ran from her life and met a stranger in the woods. He was just the frost she’d waited for and she invited him to accompany her to back to her home and immediately fell in love with him.

           They were forbidden to be together, but the summer princess could not forbid her heart from feeling and she secretly married the stranger in the woods. They were very happy, each completing the other in ways they had never known before. They were warned about growing hostilities because of their love, but the summer princess had more news: she was with child. Still, their union did not make everyone happy and the forces of summer and winter, ever at odds, went to war.

           By the time the princess gave birth to not one child, but a pair of twins, the winter and summer courts were rapidly running through their supplies and soldiers and a truce could not be found. The summer princess and her stranger in the woods were betrayed by a most beloved friend and were forced to give up their children, a son and a daughter, in order to spare their lives. As the children were taken away, the summer princess sacrificed her life so that her children would have a chance. A great fire was set to their home and trapped within, the stranger in the woods and the summer princess became spirits, collecting the souls of the winter and summer folk who could not pass on. In a final act of desperation, the summer princess offered the sky people, who ruled the earth and all those within, her life forever in exchange for her babies, that they might be free.

           But the sky people were a vengeful sort, and did not suffer the summer princess lightly, as they blamed her for disrupting the harmony they had created. A curse was placed on her daughter, that she might never find happiness until the war between summer and winter was over. Her son was not cursed, but was stripped of his memories and destined to return to the winter, who would betray him. One of the sky people, a young mother herself, took pity on the children, knowing that all that had happened was because of love, and they were the product of good intentions. She knew that the curse of the daughter and the fate of the son would be what came to pass, but in the event that they found each other, a great alliance would be formed, one that would cause peace to regain control.

           For their unwillingness to compromise, both the summer and winter were forced to live out their lives and fight their wars amongst the humans. They would never be allowed to return to the sky people and their homes, nor could they pass on to the land of souls until the princess and prince are reunited and the war is ended.

           
Katerina came to the end of the story and looked up. Natalia’s eyes were glassy with tears and she couldn’t look at Kat. At the end of the story was a page that looked like it had been added in, but Katerina couldn’t read it. It was in some sort of loopy lettering in some language that she’d never seen. 

Things, Excitement!

A little while ago I wrote about how my computer crashed and sent all my things-including the story I had been working on for over a year-to the abyss. I wrote about how I had an early edition on paper and that from the ashes I would rebuild. I’ve found that my scenario is the best thing that could ever happen to my creative license. 

As I look over the words that I wrote before, I can see what the editors and publishers saw. I can laugh about the mistakes I made in an eager attempt to get it done, the amateur manner in which my characters behaved. That was not the story I should have written. It was a mess.

So today, instead of fervishly trying to copy down the words that I had written to produce a terrible tragedy of a book, I scrapped the project for real. Not just starting over, but an entirely new story. Sure, the key points are still the same, and my ideas are really similar-but the presentation is completely different. I have new desires and so do my characters.

It will be darker, more believeable, more like the story I wanted to write but failed to before. What’s more, I will be able to say that I’m writing an entirely new story for this NaNoWriMo, because I will be. This time around, I won’t be hanging on to over-used lines and stereotypes but jumping into unknown territory with characters that feel as real to me as people I went to high school with. 

I think this is a great metaphor for my own life. I have a predetermined plan in my head, where I follow a plan that I made ages ago, saying the words that I have heard over and over before. I know that there are options out there, and that I have complete freedom to reach out and take hold of the new and the bold, but I’m so attached to the story I’ve already made. Believe me, I cried so hard when my manuscript disappeared. And I think that’s an entirely acceptable metaphor for life. I fight so hard to keep the outdated parts of me, just for the sake of saying “But see? I did this!” when what I really need to say is “But see? I’m making new paths!” I never like the change that is imposed upon me: graduating, moving, starting new jobs, making new friends, but in the end those changes are the exact reason I want to keep revising my chapters, my life.

So goodbye first draft, it’s been really nice getting to know you, but it’s time for a serious revision.

Hello new draft, I can’t wait to dig in and see where this story leads.

  

Thoughts and the Like

I’ve been working for over a year on the draft of my first novel. It’s approximately 75k words, and I know it’s not perfect, but I no longer have a direction to steer myself to fix it. But what’s nice, my computer crash lost my draft. SO. While I do not have the most complete and up-to-date draft, I have one of the older ones, which I had printed off. So I’m starting to think that maybe I will polish that puppy up and self-pub. Of course, it would be e-book only, and I mean, that’s gotta be a start, right? I think that I will be working on that throughout my breaks this semester and then sometime February or so, I will have an e-book to my name. Or at least, that’s the plan right now. I’m sure I’ll send out another round of query letters between now and then.

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