I’ve got WHAAAAATTTTTT??????   9 comments

It’s a chilling fact that if you live long enough, there’s a reasonable chance that things will become unreasonably weird. You’ll sprout hair in strange places and lose it others. Inexplicable aches in unreachable places will flare, stab and disappear. Stuff you took for granted like hearing, reading, remembering an occasional important datum, and standing up without sound effects become wistful memories. You start spending an inordinate amount of time planning your meals and daily activities around their proximity to bathrooms, and hopefully places to nap. You stop automatically shredding urgent notices from Social Security and actually catch yourself musing to your beloved, stroking your chin like an ancient philosopher, “Maybe we need to start researching Medigap plans.”

You start to realize uneasily that it’s not old people coming down with various agues and afflictions—it’s your friends. Who were headbanging madly with you in the 70s and are therefore forever immune to aging. It is known.

Until your doctor, the one you just know is going to fix your chronic issues once and for all and ferret out all the stuff the other stupid doctors didn’t get, gazes with deep compassion directly into your eyes and says, “It was positive.”

And we ain’t talking about a pregnancy test.

Oh no, gentle readers. That’s not even the bad part.

You don’t want any cancer at all, of course, but what happens when you get THE cancer, the Big One, the Queen Mother of all miserable rotten cancers……

That’s right. ANAL CANCER.

Go ahead. That face. Then a slightly shamed laugh. Then that face again.

At least, that’s exactly the process I went through, as it began to sink in that no, it wasn’t Farrah Fawcett we were talking about, although I’ve always kinda loved her. And wanted to be like her. With the hair and the teeth and the nipples.

And yeah, when she got ANAL CANCER, I heard all the awful jokes. Probably told a few too. I loved FF but I was kind of a bitch back then. Way worse than I am now. So I know what I’m in for here.

It’s just another irony of the whole assholey situation that although everything else on my carcass has gone to the manure pile in a slow pony cart, I finally got hair that is pretty awesome.

Even if it’s not as showstopping as Farrah’s mane, it’s still pretty wonderful after the super-long-but-super-thin hair of my dim and distant youth.

I’ll be gettin’ some chemo, bookending several weeks of daily (gods give me strength) radiation. They say my hair may thin, but probably not all fall out, which is nice because I think my skull has too many barnacles to rock the glabrous splendor of this chick.

I’m not sweating whatever goes on at the top of my crown, though. Radiation in the rosy ring o’ fire is going to be what makes already Crabby Crone Suz into a veritable Erinys.

So, my men and I have decided to call it Ass Cancer, or AC. It conveys the right amount of information without conjuring up actual visuals of the glitterhole. Asshole Cancer also works, although calling people assholes is so ubiquitous it hardly packs a wallop any more, does it?

But Anal Cancer makes you go

‘Asshole’ can be delivered in all sorts of tones, from vicious to downright affectionate. But we only use anus if we want people to leap sideways instinctively.

I’ve heard and used the words anus and anal, as well as cancer, more times in the last week and a half than I’d hoped to in the rest of my entire life. I barely even flinch any more.

I can make a pretty fair guess at how long any given nurse, tech or scribe has been on the job by how they deliver the word. The women tend to just come right out with ‘anus’, with varying degrees of hesitation or carefully constructed casualness, while the men are far more likely to go with ‘hind end’, ‘bottom’ or ‘behind.’

I’m getting approximately six tests, five pre-screenings, several ‘Get to Know Your Crinklestar Cancer’ classes, three interviews with social workers (who counsel me, with carefully direct gazes, on what acts I am or am not advised to perform, regardless of their dubious legality in several southern states), and two other meetings regarding my father’s endlessly convoluted estate, all jingling merrily in line this week. Oh, and surgery to get a port implanted. I think anyone’s bulls-eye might twitch over a week like I’m facing.

It’ll almost be a relief to get past all the ‘Get Suz’s Oom-Bop Ready for Searing’ preparations and start the damn treatment.

I won’t say that the lead-up is worse than the main event, because I’m pretty sure that getting the leather starfish irradiated is going to be about as bad as anything can be. But until I get it all behind me (arf arf arf) I can’t begin to contemplate what a world without doodle door pain might look like. It’s been a full two years of chronic pain, even longer with intermittent, whilst fully seven doctors and nurse practitioners have peered netherward and backed away shrugging, so I’m glad to finally have a fighting chance of getting healed and regaining a normal flower pot.

And if you have got to cope with AC, doing so with my support system is the way to do it. I’ve got terrific friends and family all standing by, ready to deliver rides and animal care and meals and inappropriate jokes as needed, and my beautiful farm where I love to be and where I can recover and heal.

Maybe even ride my pony again.

My girl Farrah didn’t survive hers. But mine is early, and things are better now (partly due to the foundation she started, bless her) and I’ve got books to write and miles to ride.

I plan to be utterly bumtastic.

Posted February 19, 2022 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Lenaia ’22   Leave a comment

My poor, poor neglected blog. I barely wrote at all last year, other than my daily journals, and when I did it was mostly in other venues.

Since I’ve been pretty good about recording my Lenaia experiences, either here or in my spiritual journal, I’ll dust off my sweet little blog and write it here.

It ain’t much.

The old woman peers out the window into the deepening twilight, over the ice-skinned snow. She exclaims in delight. A full moon is glimmering through the eastern trees, washing the farm in fantasy silver-blue. She calls the clowder as she struggles into her barn clothes. There’s a cruel wind slapping the trees, so she adds handwarmers to her pockets. The dog is crowding the door, the tabby fighting to be first, but the two older cats decline. They want to perform their rites, not help with the old woman’s chores. The old woman hefts the steaming bucket of mash and the three of them pile out into the moonlit night.

The old woman sighs when she sees the stalls, strewn with chunks of ice and frozen balls of manure. The mares circle the barn, impatient with her and excited by the moonlight, while she painstakingly mucks the stalls. The dog streaks in to lick the buckets as the old woman prepares the dinners. The big tabby prowls the barn, eager for prey.

The mares plunge their noses into their warm feeders. The old woman checks the blanket on the grey, adjusts it, scratches pressure points, kisses the nose. She runs a hand over the old grulla’s belly and smells behind the velvet-tufted ear. While the mares eat, the old woman sets piles of hay on top of the broken ice, breaking through to soft snow at every step, the crack of ice like a shout into the night.

When the barn is finished and the only sound is peaceful crunching, the old woman calls the dog and tabby and they all trudge through the watching night back into the house.

Once they’ve warmed up, and the old woman has lustrated appropriately and changed into clean clothes, the clowder gathers in the kitchen, the dog sitting in the midst of them, ears strained forward and eyes bright. The old woman prepares the libation-—peanut butter whisky; she hasn’t been to the store to buy wine for Him. With the household in a state of miasma, she hadn’t planned to celebrate the Lenaia at all. But divination has encouraged her to enjoy a simple offering and time with the God, and she is grateful. She puts her coat and boots back on and leads them all into the Lenaia night, whisky in one hand and a fresh-baked cookie in the other,

The cats glide on top of the ice, streaking for the treeline in the Faery Grove. They are maenads at heart, ready to dance. They know this full moon is His. The dog follows more slowly, skidding and breaking through the ice layer as she goes. The old woman moves slowly down the driveway. She is sadly aware that of all the many times she’s taken this Lenaia walk, this is the first in which age and injury make her creeping and cautious. Moving like an old woman. Her face sags a little at the thought.

After passing Oberyn the Oak with a nod of greeting, she turns off the driveway and crunches through the snow, each footstep shocking in the frozen moonlight. She passes the Crones, the now-deserted Realm, and makes her way to the Erigone tree, dead but still standing in beauty, with the Dionysos pine behind her, both enwrapped in thick, muscular wild grape vine.

The presence of Erigone fills the old woman. She looks out over the white pasture before her, a few stars glittering in the lustrous pewter mirror of the sky, and feels the weight of all the Lost Girls crush down on her. So many little maidens, broken and discarded, dulled into submission, grown into stagnation, no longer even struggling to escape their bondage. So few have been as fortunate as she.

As the old woman sobs, the dog noses her hand; the ancient calico skims over and demands imperiously to be held. Sniffling, laughing, clutching the cat’s thin body to her, the old woman turns back to the shrine to pour the libation, and He is there. The Lost Girls teem around him, barely there, a shimmer in the moonlight, a ghost-waft of giggling, manes flowing, feet flying in their dance. He accepts her libation to Him and gestures for her to finish it. She coughs and splutters. He laughs and is gone.

Still holding the vibrating calico, the old woman calls to the others and begins her slow, careful walk across the ice, back to the house. After a few steps the calico struggles to be put down. The Siamese floats across the ice to the driveway, where she is bowled over by the boisterous onslaught of the dog. The Siamese fluffs up to twice her own size and stalks up the driveway, pausing to hiss at the tabby who was considering a sneak assault.

The dog paws excitedly at the door. The calico is close behind her. The Siamese pauses to check for the treacherous tabby. She consents to be carried inside. The tabby, with no more available victims, races into the house.

Doors are locked,. Curtains are drawn. Treats are given. The Lenaia, such as they are, are finished.

Posted January 18, 2022 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Athena Polioukhos   Leave a comment

Pagan Pride Day just got canceled- again- due to rising cases of Covid. It’s a good decision, however painful. But I’m sad, not just to miss hanging with my Tribe and doing the closing ritual, but because it would be a rare opportunity to publicly unveil my latest shrine piece for Athena.

My artist, an amazing young woman who will soon be too famous and expensive to be ‘my’ artist any more, made this for me a while back but <Covid> it took a long time for it to wend its way to me. It had been brewing in my head for such a long time. It’s a worry to try and take something from your own head and describe to someone else and have it come out anything close to what you want, but Claudia did it again.

She’s the daughter of my best friend, so I’d seen her stuff before. She did the illustrations for a story anthology in which both her mom and I have pieces, so when it came time to do the book cover for my first novella, I called her. I’m crazy about the one we selected for the cover, and loved the alternates so much that I put them in the book too. Then I asked her to do a wall mural on my then-newly-crafted writing studio, and I’m crazy about it too.

Here’s my friggin’ fantastic book cover.

And here’s the almost-finished mural. Why I can’t find a pic of the finished product is a mystery.

So it was an easy choice to ask her to make this piece for me. It’s based on my favorite scene in the Iliad. It’s the one where Akhilles, finally shaken out of his sulkiness, stands on the ramparts of the Greek camp on the beach at Troy, the bloody sunset flaming in the sky behind him, and roars his grief and fury and defiance at Troy. Athena, Homer tells us, stands behind and towering above him, and lets loose her own battle cry with his. The terrible, terrifying cacauphony of their combined shout strikes terror into the hearts of all those who hear it, friend or foe.

This image is so powerful to me. We mortals aren’t often able to vibrate at a level where we’re totally in the sphere of our Gods, where we speak Their words and our hands do Their Work. When you manage it, it shakes you to the depths of your soul. What Akhilles does here is that- he is so aligned with the War Goddess, the Defender of Cities, the Goddess of Victory, the War Trumpet, that his voice is Her voice and he is briefly imbued with the wonder and terror that is Her.

Gives me freakin’ goose bumps.

I think Claudia nails it. Without my asking, she decided to carve it into olive wood rather than draw or paint it. How perfect is that? There is such power and movement and immanence in it. I get chills when I stand before it in ritual. I’m mad in love with it. It sat on my hearth for a couple of weeks while I waited for Her sacred day to officially dedicate it. Then I set it in the sunlight, with Zeus thunderclouds boiling up from the north, grumbling and flashing. Right before the rain came I took it inside and anointed it with frankincense, bergamot, sandalwood and olive oils. Then I carried it around the farm, pausing before the outdoor shrines and dryads. Finally I set it on Her cleaned and prepared shrine and burned incense in front of it.

Well, it won’t be on the center altar of our PPD this year. But if the Savior Goddess, the Protector and Defender of Cities is beneficent to us, in all our madness and disinformation spewing and dangerous carelessness, another opportunity will present itself somewhere on the far side of variants and outbreaks and babbling hordes of anti-vaxxers.

Hail to the Bright-Eyed Daughter of Zeus and Metis!

#claudiatisdale #athenasoteira #hellenicshrines #

Posted August 14, 2021 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Little Bears   Leave a comment

My latest LSQ blog post, dears!

LIttle Bears

Khloe hides her toy bow and arrow in the folds of her saffron gown, glancing down the line of fidgeting girls to where her mother stands watching. Khloe is supposed to give up her childish weapons as an offering to Artemis Agrotera, the Huntress, during this Brauronia ritual, as a symbol of her approaching adulthood. But Khloe is hoping to keep at least one arrow, a secret symbol of her unspoken hope. Her brothers laugh at her for her fierceness, her wildness, her love of playing the goddess during pretend hunts. They called her ‘Arktos’, or Little Bear, long before she was old enough to dance the bear dance at the temple in Brauron.
Her sharp gaze fastens on one of the little girls who is holding a doll and weeping silently, big bright tears coursing down her plump cheeks. That one is too young for this. She is still a baby, wanting her dolls and her mother. Only girls who are brave and strong should dance the arkteia and wear the bearskin gown.
Khloe is proud that she has been selected for service to Artemis at the Brauron temple for a year before returning to her family for marriage and full adulthood, a service that begins today. Her feet begin to shuffle as she thinks about the ancient, feral ritual about to begin. She will don the bear mask and take on the aspect of the frightening beast, growling and swatting at the other Little Bears who will prowl the sanctuary with her.
Khloe harbors a secret hope that Artemis herself will appear to her during her year of service, will shoot her with a divine silver arrow and transform her from an ordinary mortal girl into an oreiad. Joining the band of mountain nymphs who run, hunt, play and swim in Artemis’ train seems to Khloe a far better fate than being married off to produce fat, squalling babies for a lumpish husband.
Her nimble fingers separate a toy arrow from the rest and slide it into the leggings she wears under her bear-dress. She will make the offering to the goddess as is proper, but she will keep this symbol of her worthiness to serve Artemis more directly. And permanently.

Phoebe fidgets in her bright yellow dress, clutching her toy bear in one hand. She is not afraid of the bear dance, nor of leaving her favorite toy at the feet of Artemis’ statue. She feels at home among the animals who belong to the Potnia Theron, the Mistress of Beasts. It is the other girls who alarm her, and the priestesses and family members who are here to observe the rites and make sure they are properly carried out. Phoebe knows most of the girls standing in the line in their yellow robes, but rules and rites are difficult for her to remember. She is afraid of making a mistake, of making a spectacle of herself, of censorious eyes piercing her, of being slapped—or worse, shunned.
Phoebe is one of the older girls taking part in the ritual, at almost twelve while most of the others are around ten, with a few as young as five or six. She pleaded with her mother, who interceded with her father, to let her stay a little kore for another year, then another. Her mother understands, as few adults do, the difficulties Phoebe has with interacting in groups and following specific rules as the ritual requires. But she cannot put off any longer her participation in the bear dance, the first step out of the innocence and ferity of her childhood, overseen by Artemis.
Phoebe’s throat is dry. She glances along the line of girls and catches the eye of Khloe, another of the older girls. Khloe winks at her and makes a fist—Be strong!—and Phoebe lifts her chin. Is she not the best at acting out the ritual and comic dramas in her village? Is she not the one whom the other children seek out to learn about the animals in their region, since she loves and observes the wild creatures whenever she can escape her duties? Is she not known for being a girl to whom anyone can turn for comfort, friendship and advice?
She smiles back at Khloe, then glances down at her shabby, dilapidated cloth bear, made for her by her mother when she was a baby. She hugs it to her, squeezes her eyes shut, then opens them wide and lets the bear dangle from her fingertips. She will be a brave and fierce arktos in the dance. She will give up her toy to the goddess. She will perform the ritual actions as expected and move from kore (little girl), to parthenos (young virgin), in preparation for becoming a nymphe (girl ready for marriage), then a gyne (married woman).

Ismene holds her spinning top loosely as she watches the musicians ready their drums and double flutes for the arkteia. She has enjoyed studying the action of the toy and observing the criteria that govern its spinning motion, but she is ready to give it up. She knows that Artemis Phosphoros, the goddess who illuminates the world with the light of knowledge, will present her with more intricate and fascinating things to study and from which to learn. Ismene loves the way each new facet of comprehension informs and even alters earlier stages of learning. She never tires of the process.
Ismene sometimes wishes she were a boy and could attend school. The tidbits of philosophy and science she coaxes out of her brothers fascinate her. But her mother, with her bright eyes that miss nothing, has gently encouraged Ismene to teach herself to observe, experiment, disassemble and create with the objects in her everyday life. Ismene has learned to cloak her ongoing analyses within the accepted, and therefore ignored, activities of women and to add to her store of knowledge without bringing upon herself the censure of the men. She has no doubt that she can continue her path of self-enlightenment through marriage and motherhood.
Ismene is interested to discover the knowledge couched with the rites, soon to be revealed, and the new opportunities that may be available to her as a parthenos that were not as a kore.

As the music begins, each girl steps forward in her bright yellow krokoton and lays her offering at the feet of the statue of Artemis. They file past the altar, each accepting a basket of figs from the Brauron temple head priestess. Followed by the mothers, aunts, grandmothers and priestesses, they move into the sanctuary where they will don the bear masks and perform the arkteia. After this and other ritual actions, they will shed their ‘bear suits’, both masks and saffron gowns, and move into the next stage of their advancing maturity.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Brauron was not the only site of bear-focused initiation of young girls in ancient Greece, simply the one best recorded. The ritual taming of the feral nature of girls took place in many forms. The Ortheia festival in Sparta tells of girls wearing the masks of Gorgons while boys were whipped until blood flowed.
Artemis rules over the wild and dangerous natural world, the primal place from which we all come and which we all carry within us. She reminds us that the ferocity of animals pulses only skin-deep beneath our veneer of civilization. Walls, lights and technology give us a facade of safety, but the bear is always lurking, prowling outside the comfort of community as well as within our own psyches.
Little girls have easy access to this casual ferocity until they are trained to ignore it. The initiation rites disclose the unease with which humans attempt to distance ourselves from the danger of living in and being part of the world, a world where death can come without warning, even to the young and innocent.

Artemis is a liminal goddess, present at birth and dealing death. The garments of women who died in childbirth were offered to Artemis at the Brauronia festival.
The Little Bears, the Arktoi, did not leave behind the protection of the goddess, not until their marriage, when they moved formally from Artemis’ sphere to that of Hera. But it represented their first step away from being little girls, free of the constraints that maturity brings, and also terribly vulnerable to the accidents, predations and illnesses which took so many young children right up to modern times.
It is fitting that little girls who died before reaching adulthood, as well as women who died in labor, were thought to have been pierced with the silver arrows of the Huntress.

Cult of Artemis at Brauron – Wikipedia


Callisto: GreekMythology.com.


Posted July 28, 2021 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Another LSQ- Artemisia!   Leave a comment

Dears, here’s my latest L.S.Q. Not a fictional female this time, but an actual historical one.

Artemisia the General

Artemisia the General

Artemisia gazes out over the water, the wind in her face, sea spray beading in the tight black coils of her braids. Her city of Halicarnassus shrinks behind her. She’s glad to get away from the stifling dullness of court, its endless calculating politics and fawning courtiers and whining supplicants. Action is what she craves, and the opportunity to pit her wits against the men who try to curry favor with her while talking down to her as if she were a witless child. She has answered Xerxes’ call to arms with a speed that startled her clucking, puffing courtiers. She and the five ships of her kingdom’s fleet are eager to shake off the dust of the polis and streak toward battle.

Historical women rarely make it into this blog, but there are a few in Greek history who are so powerful and memorable that their exploits achieve mythic status. Artemisia, queen of Halicarnassus, a Greek city-state that was part of the Persian empire, is so fascinating that she has shouldered her way forward and demanded her spotlight.

Artemisia’s name is derived from the goddess Artemis, huntress, warrior and goddess of wild and feral things. As warlike and fierce as the goddess is, she’s a perfect patron for the warrior-queen who terrified her male military peers and drew praise and admiration from the Persian ruler, Xerxes.

The queen’s thoughts fly to her small son, cared for in her absence by trusted family members. She needs to hold Caria until he comes of age, damn her husband’s eyes for dying so young. Her only choice was to entrust their child to scheming politicians or take the throne herself, her eagle eyes dulling in the fog of tradition, rules, etiquette and the numbing minutiae of rulership. But this…this is what she was born for. Command, not queenship. Battle with sword and spear, not the endless dagger thrusts of political debate and court rhetoric.

She takes a deep breath of the cold sea air.

Artemisia I of Caria’s kingdom included the polis of Halicarnassus and the nearby islands of Kos, Nisyros and Kalymnos, all under the Archaemenid satrapy of Caria, part of the Persian empire, in modern day Turkey. She was of Greek and Carian descent from her father, and Cretan descent from her mother. Her exploits are often confused with those of Artemisia II of Caria, who built the ancient wonder of the world, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, for her brother/husband.

Artemisia had not been at the Battle of Marathon, but the Persians’ surprise defeat there had shocked her and the rulers of all the other satrapies. King Xerxes has now amassed the greatest fleet the world has ever seen, greater even than the fabled fleet said to have laid siege to Troy. He could not lose again. Artemisia plans to be a part of the victory. She and her warships had been with the great Xerxes’ navy at Artemisium, fighting the stubborn Greeks to a standstill. Xerxes’ ground forces simultaneously overwhelmed the tiny company of Spartan resisters at Thermopylae. Now they were gleefully sacking the hastily abandoned upstart polis of Athens.

It was at Artemisium that Xerxes had taken notice of his sole female general and her wily, unexpected tactics.

Artemisia glances back at the mainmast, where a halyard coils around the base, an Athenian flag neatly folded under it. A passing sailor sees a smile flicker across her face and hurries away, a chill running down his spine. The crew had been shocked when their queen had the Greek flag run up during the battle at Artemisium, then thrown into confusion at her order to ram one of their Persian allies. But the fire in her eyes had cowed them, and they did as ordered, right before an Athenian trireme would have rammed them. When the Athenian captain saw their flag and their prow buried in a Persian hull he had changed course and let them be.

There was no clear winner at Artemisium, but history gives the nod to the Persians. The allied Greek fleet, consisting of about 270 triremes from Athens, Sparta, Corinth and a handful of smaller polises, was tiny compared to the gargantuan number of Persian warships. But Xerxes lost approximately one third of his ships in a gale on the way to the engagement, then a couple hundred more in another storm as they attempted to sneak around the Greeks and trap them. The two fleets duked it out over a three day period, ending when the Greek allies received word of their defeat at Thermopylae. They withdrew to Salamis, leaving the plain of Attika to be overrun by the Persians, who took the abandoned polis of Athens and razed it. Xerxes enjoyed his brief moment of triumph, having taken the most strategically important parts of mainland Greece and the prized polis of Athens. Then the brilliant Athenian politician and general Themistokles rallied his tattered, decimated troops at Salamis.

A knock at the door interrupts a meeting between Artemisia and her second-in-command, a grizzled one-eyed veteran with a creative mind for tactics, a vicious temperament, and unshakeable loyalty to her. At her terse word a flustered lieutenant opens the door, bobbing and stammering. The queen’s eyes narrow. The boy gulps and manages, “It’s King Xerxes, my lady. He’s called a war council and he wants you there!”

Artemisia and her captain exchange a tight smile. Without a word, she rises, buckles on her sword and flings her purple cloak around her shoulders. With the captain one pace behind her, she brushes past the gaping young marine and strides to the gangplank.

Fires blaze on the beach, leaving no doubt where the council is taking place. About a hundred of Xerxes’ finest commanders are seated on rocks and logs in a rough semi-circle before the Persian king’s opulent tent. Artemisia surveys the scene. She motions to her captain.

“Zana, find me a place close to the front, but not too close. We will not be meekly shunted to the sidelines.”

Zana’s single eye gleams. Artemisia waits, motionless in the shadows, as he shoves his way through the throng, ignoring curses and complaints, his expression withering any who try to prevent his passage. He pauses by a good-sized boulder about twenty feet from Xerxes’ pavilion. Two well-dressed young men are sharing it. When he returns five minutes later, having parted the crowd with his queen pacing serenely in his wake, he stares down at the young nobles. They gaze back, with welcoming smiles that falter and fall off their faces. Zana jerks his head. One starts to bluster but the other, looking closely at the wolf face of the older man, takes his companion’s arm and they quietly vacate the stone. Zana removes his cloak, lays it across the boulder, and hands his queen onto the seat. A ripple of exclamations, incredulous laughter, and a mutter of protest eddies out through the crowd, but dies as Artemisia tosses back her now-loose mane of ebony hair and smiles her white, feral smile. Zana takes his place behind her, hand on the hilt of his sword.

The Persian king, taller than everyone else present, steps out of his tent. He surveys his commanders, his cold eyes assessing them, taking his time. The murmuring crowd falls into an awed silence. Artemisia smiles to herself. She recognizes the psychological ploy. It is one she often resorts to herself, an icy, tacit reminder of who holds the power.

In his deep, beautiful voice, Xerxes summarizes the battle they have just fought. There are nods as he terms it a victory, although Artemisia keeps her face carefully still, knowing how skillfully the desperately outnumbered Greeks fought and the damage they had wreaked on the Persian navy. Xerxes tells his commanders that they now have the choice to pursue the allies to their bolthole at Salamis, or gather their plunder from sacked Athens and the decimated Attikan plain and go home. One by one he asks each man to share his thoughts. One by one, each man firmly makes the case to take the fleet to Salamis and pound the Greeks into a final, resounding defeat.

Everyone has spoken by the time Xerxes’ eyes fall on Artemisia. He smiles slowly. The Carnian queen feels the circle of men draw back, away from her, isolating her, the distance palpable. Only Zana remains at her back. She cannot see his face but knows he is looking steadily back at the King of Kings, respectful but not one whit cowed.

Xerxes does not spare a glance for the underling. He walks with a stately tread through the crowd, commanders scrambling to clear his path. He stops before Artemisia. She meets his eyes, smiles into them and rises. She does not curtsy. She bows to her king, man to man.

Xerxes smiles back. “And you, my only female general. What say you to this plan? Do you agree with the rest that we should finish what we’ve started and crush the upstarts into jelly?”

Artemisia’s voice rings out clear in the firelight. “Great king, you have already won a victory of which the poets will sing through the ages. Athens is razed, the Greek polises are panicked, the villages and settlements scattered and demoralized. We can now prevent supplies getting through by sea and starve the remaining holdouts all across the Attikan plain, picking them off at our leisure. Your name strikes terror into the hearts of your enemies and none will dare to stand against you again. But the Greek navy, as we have just seen, are formidable sailors and warriors. They will fight fiercely to the last, even though they cannot win. There is no need to incur any further damage to your mighty fleet, nor to put yourself in harm’s way. You are already victorious. So here is my advice: do not commit the fleet to battle, because at sea your men will be as inferior to the Greeks as women are to men.”

The king’s eyes bore into her. Silence falls, heavy as a shroud. Artemisia feels Zana shift behind her, but her head is high and her smile never falters.

Xerxes’ chiseled face splits into a huge grin. Turning on his heel, he bellows, “Hear the Carian queen! Would that I had a hundred of her! I’d toss the rest of you into the midden heap and I would rule the whole world!” He strides back to his tent and pushes through the rich fabrics hanging at the door. There is a long, long pause, then subdued muttering. Eyes flash white in the firelight as men glance at Artemisia, then away. Not deigning to look at any of them, Artemisia walks with a firm stride to her ship, Zana at her back.

Despite his delight at the perspicacity of his female general, Xerxes decided to take the counsel of the majority, many of whom had more years of battle experience than the Carian queen. He deployed his troops to Salamis.

“10,000 drachmas,” laughs Zana as the flagship leads the Helicarnassian fleet toward the narrow straits of Salamis. “Not one of the other generals has such a bounty on his head! The Greeks are rightly terrified of you, my queen!” Artemisia grins back at him and tucks a stray lock of hair under her helm. She advised against this battle but since it is upon her, she is eager to engage. Her flag catches the sun, high on the midmast, and the oars send spray sparkling in their wake as they race forward. That very morning she overheard two of the Persian generals muttering that the bounty should be sufficient to scare the woman home to her throne and leave warring to her betters. She has marked their ships, just in case she has occasion to teach them a lesson in warfare.

The Greeks successfully lured the cocky Persians into the narrow straits of Salamis by feigning retreat. Then they turned a bold and frankly insane attack on the larger, heavier, more numerous warships of the Persians, which found themselves unable to pivot effectively in the tight confines. Artemisia was pursued by a deadly trireme from Athens and was unable to slip away from it, blocked in the busy, churning waters by both friendly and hostile ships.

Artemisia has seconds to act. She whirls to her mainmast where Zana is poised, watching for her signal. She nods. In one swift motion Zana releases the halyard with the Carian standard. Even as it crumples to the deck, the Athenian flag is hoisted to the peak where it unfurls, catching the sun. But Artemisia doesn’t wait to see its effect. Seeing a Persian ship wallowing haplessly nearby, blocked fore and aft, she grasps her helmsman’s shoulder and points. Well-trained by Zana, he does not hesitate for even a second. The nose of the ship turns to her ally and leaps forward. The quartermaster takes it in with a single glance and bellows, “Impact!”

The ram of Artemisia’s warship crunches through the hull of Persian ship. The queen has one immensely satisfying glance at one of her detractors righting himself from his headlong tumble across the bridge, shouting incoherently at her. She looks over her shoulder at the Athenian. The trireme has veered off and is in hot pursuit of another lumbering Persian ship. Quick as a cat, Zana has whipped the Greek flag down and is raising their own again. Artemisia gives the order to have the rowers back her ship out of the hapless Persian ship, and scans the busy waters for her next quarry.

Across the bay, high on a hill overlooking the water, Artemisia can see Xerxes’ elaborate canopy, its colors bright against the brown earth. She can just make out the tall figure, towering over all others, hand raised high in her direction. Even through the flood of battle adrenaline she feels a flush of pleasure. Catching Zana’s eye, she points toward a Greek ship in hot pursuit of one of her own allies. Her lips pull back in a snarl.

Time to go hunting.

Herodotus tells us that Xerxes, after seeing Artemisia flip her flags and deceive the enemy, exclaimed, “My male generals have turned into women and my female general into a man!”

Sadly for Xerxes, Artemisia’s wiliness was not enough to bring him victory. The menacing, heavy Persian ships turned out to be no match, in the confined straits of Salamis, for the fast, light, maneuverable Greek triremes. Afraid to be cut off and forced to remain in Greece where he could be captured or killed, Xerxes again turned to the one person who had given him good advice before the disaster. Artemisia reiterated that Xerxes had already accomplished his stated mission, to raze Athens, and that he could comfortably return in triumph to Persia, leaving his general, Mardonius, with a large force to finish mopping up on the mainland. She pointed out that if Mardonius succeeded the victory would be Xerxes’, but if he failed, the failure would be pinned on him while Xerxes would be safe at home. Xerxes took her advice this time and headed back to Persia, leaving Mardonius to lead the troops to their ultimate defeat, and Mardonius’ death, at Plataea the following year.

Before he left, Xerxes is reputed to have given his female general a suit of Greek armor, and her captain a distaff and spindle. Artemisia was given the honor of escorting Xerxes’ illegitimate children to safety at Ephesus. At this point, history loses track of her. Apparently she never went back to her throne in Halicarnassus. Her son, Pisindelis, became tyrant when he came of age, with no mention of his mother. But historians have left us with some speculations as to what became of the formidable general. Pausanias tells us that the Spartans, always admiring of a worthy foe, used detritus left over from the Persian invasion of their territory to make a beautiful marble statue of her in their Persian Hall in the agora. Photius, writing almost 400 years after the Persian Wars, claims she fell in love with a prince named Dardanus, and, after he rejected her advances, threw herself into the sea and drowned. While nothing contradicts this account, it seems unlikely that a woman like this would end so pitifully.

It’s almost impossible to find women in ancient Greece giving accounts of their experiences in their own voices. Even the most famous, Sappho, didn’t leave clear lines on what was her own history and what was fiction. When we read Herodotus quote Artemisia as saying to Xerxes, “So here is my advice: do not commit the fleet to battle, because at sea your men will be as inferior to the Greeks as women are to men,” we don’t know if he is romanticizing her conversation with Xerxes (to which he was certainly not privy) or if she was cagily playing to the societal norms of her time.

But of one thing we can be sure —Artemesia I of Caria, mother, queen, general and badass, was inferior to no man and she knew it.



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Posted May 27, 2021 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Gaslighting?   12 comments

So, I’d like to have a conversation. This conversation may be triggering for some people, so please participate with caution.

During a recent exchange on Twitter, someone said that authors who treat their characters like real people spiked this tweeter’s anxiety by ‘forcing’ them to participate in delusional behavior. That authors should not say things like ‘I don’t know where the plot is going, I’m waiting for my characters to tell me.’ Because fictional characters aren’t REAL, and it creates a lot of anxiety for this person when they’re treated as if they’re real.

My response that it works very well for me to talk and listen to my characters garnered, ‘But you know they’re not REAL, right?’

Now, y’all KNOW I believe in a universe teeming with Gods whom most of you believe are ‘only’ myths. That I converse with trees and pond spirits and well wights and stars. So ‘real’ for me isn’t, perhaps, quite aligned with what the majority of people in my place and time consider to be real. Yes, I’m aware that my characters don’t have tactile reality. But reality, for me, isn’t a stark and simple black and white. Alice (the Wonderland one, not Alice Liddell) has far more actual impact on my daily existence than most ‘real people’ ever will.

So I wasn’t arguing with this tweeter, simply attempting to put it in a different perspective, one that accommodates both their discomfort and my own paradigm. But it still came back to ‘real’, which is fine. I understand perfectly what they meant, even if I put more nuances into the term. And I’d like to find a place where we can meet and be comfortable, without anxiety or feeling stifled.

I wondered why it matters why or how I interact with my characters, but this prompted some anger and further anxiety, so naturally I apologized for having raised the decibel of the conversation and exited.

But I’m curious. Is it realistic to expect others to both understand and adjust to one’s anxiety triggers? Is it courteous to try to curate one’s conversation to avoid anything that might set someone else off?

Obviously I would never casually use my familiar tone vis-a-vis my characters with this person again, now that I know how it feels to them. But how would anyone just showing up know that it’s an issue? At least prior to triggering them?

I lost an online friend years ago in a similar way. She is a brilliant writer and a fascinating thinker, such an interesting person. She was very upfront and clear about having a pretty severe case of bipolar disorder. We had been friends for a few years when, presumably during an episode, she accused me of some wild and wacky things that I would never do or dream of doing. She got angrier and angrier as I tried to fend off the attacks with what seemed to me to be logic. When nothing worked, I made the fatal mistake of saying ‘Sweetie, this isn’t real. This is your mental illness talking.’

She accused me of gaslighting her (the first time I’d heard the term) and blocked me. She was right, in a strict sense, although I understand the term to mean deliberately using someone’s condition to turn things around and make their perfectly rational behavior seem unhinged.

But right or wrong or well-intentioned or deliberately hurtful, that was the end.

So, sad though it is to have her gone from my life, with her vivid beautiful writing, I have learned to be far more careful about bringing up mental issues during stressful interactions.

Telling my lost friend that her perceptions were wack wasn’t a good way to proceed. But I don’t presume that most folks I meet in the world or on the ‘net have such conversational pitfalls. Should I?

How tightly should I be curating my conversations?

Maybe it’s ablist of me to think that it’s an infringement on my ability to communicate openly and honestly to demand that I intuit everyone else’s hot buttons and avoid them?

I dunno. I spent most of my life trimming my sails in both belief and word to try and please other people. Escaping from that is too hard-won to give up.

I wouldn’t deliberately trip anyone’s triggers in word or deed, any more than I’d misuse pronouns or dead-name someone once I’d been advised of the preference (although I am sure forgetful and screw things up sometimes.)

And I don’t really think that most folks expect me to. I’ve been on Twitter for over a year and it’s the first and only time I’ve encountered this degree of ire over a relatively mild authorial quirk. Naturally we all have things that make us roll our eyes and scroll on past.

For you, gentle readers, at what point does voicing your discomfort with something turn into entitlement?

We tell people all the time to walk away from energy vampires, narcissists, time-suckers and just plain assholes- but we’re also told to be sensitive and accepting of the myriad forms of mental illness.

I’m not particularly bothered by this Twitter conversation. I suspect the other party will block me, despite my apology and withdrawal, and that’s fine. But it took me right back to my misstep with someone I did care about losing.

I wonder if my advancing years, crone mentality and size 10 feet just make it too hard for me to move through the woke world.

How do you handle something that’s just you doing you when that something is making someone else very angry?

Posted April 24, 2021 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

My latest LSQ tale   2 comments

Dears! My latest Luna Station Quarterly blog post is live. Erigone is one of my favorite characters in Greek mythology, and one of the goddesses in my Kore cultus.

I hope you enjoy it!

The Girl Who Swings

The Girl Who Swings

What would it be like to be a girl who meets a god?

Maybe it goes something like this.

Once upon a time, in the region of Athens, there lived a girl called Erigone. Athens was small then but developing importance due to the interest taken by such gods as Athena, Poseidon and Demeter.

Erigone lived with her father, Ikarios, and her mother, Phanothea. She was a happy girl of about ten, with unruly curls of deep brown, with a sheen of purple like the bloom of a wild grape, and brilliant hazel eyes. She helped her father tend the goats and her mother spin and weave the linen for their clothing, all the while singing the songs her mother taught her.

“Erigone!” called her father one spring dusk as shadows pooled in the sheltered dell outside their home. “Draw water from the well and fetch bread and mead! A stranger approaches!”

Erigone dropped the spindle she had been holding for her mother and ran to the door. Her father was standing by the gate of the goat pen, shading his eyes with one hand as he peered into the darkening road before their house. His dog, Maera, stood beside him, hackles raised. Erigone joined them, watching the approaching figure. She thought for a moment that there were many people, dancing and swirling around the central form, but as the person drew nearer she could see that it was just one man, his steps halting as if he were very tired.

Maera started forward, barking, as the man stumbled to a halt in the road before their home. She stopped suddenly, lowering her head, and crept toward the stranger. To Erigone’s surprise, their fierce dog licked his hand.

Ikarios’s hand fell on her shoulder. She whirled and ran to the well behind their home, lowering the bucket and then straining to raise it, brimming, to the surface. Phanothea came to the door as Erigone carried the bucket inside. The woman took a basin from a shelf and set it before the fire. Erigone filled the basin and fetched a clean cloth, then began cutting slices of coarse bread while her mother hurried to milk a goat. Erigone burned with curiosity as she listened to her father greet the stranger and invite him inside.

A young man, so tall he needed to bend his head as he came through the door, preceded Ikarios into the house. He looked around, removed his cloak and smiled at the little girl before the hearth. Ikarios took the cloak and gestured to a stool close to the fire.

“Please sit, traveler, and allow my daughter to tend to you. My wife…ah, there you are, Phanothea. We are honored with a guest. Sir, will you take milk or mead?”

The young man said nothing as he sat before the fire and allowed Erigone to draw the dusty boots from his feet. He sighed as she washed the grime of travel from his feet with cool, clean water. Ikarios and Phanothea stood respectfully nearby. Erigone could see the burning desire in her mother to ask questions, but xenia, the custom of reciprocal hospitality between guest and host, kept her silent until the guest was ready to share.

Erigone sat back on her heels and peered shyly at the young man to see if he was satisfied with her efforts. Her breath caught in her throat at her first good look at the man sitting at her family’s hearth. Blue-black curls cascaded around a face of such beauty that he seemed to have stepped from a bard’s tale. His cheeks were as smooth as a maiden’s, his lips full, curved in a secret smile, and his eyes were a deep amethyst. He reached down and touched her cheek with a long finger.

“Thank you, little one,” he murmured in a voice like music. He turned that enigmatic smile to Phanothea and said, “Mistress, I thank you for your offering. I will take a little honeyed milk, if it does not discommodate you.”

For the first time in her life, Erigone saw her mother at a loss for words. After opening and closing her mouth several times, Phanothea turned silently to make the drink.

Ikarios set the bread on a platter with a nub of cheese and some dried figs. Erigone carefully 

carried the soiled water outside and poured it onto the pomegranate tree as her mother had taught her. Water never went to waste in their arid region. When she returned to the house she joined her parents, sitting silently watching the stranger eat. He was not bothered by the three sets of eyes intent upon him, but finished his meal with seeming pleasure, scattering the last few drops and crumbs into the fire.

“Your courtesy is as welcome as a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day,” he said finally, gesturing for them to join him in front of the fire. “I have a gift for you in return.” He pulled a skin bag from under his robe and set it before them. Phanothea brought a clean bowl and Ikarios rose to pour the contents of the bag into the bowl.

A sharp, sweet smell filled the little room. Erigone gazed with wonder at the rich, red-purple liquid glimmering in the firelight. Darker than blood, it yet evoked the feeling she got seeing the gush of red liquid from the throat of a sacrifice.

“Bring me water, little one,” he said to her. She ran out to the well and returned in moments with a brimming pail. Nodding his thanks, he asked Phanothea to give him a small bowl. He added water to both bowls, enough to the small bowl to dilute the color to a pale rose. He held the large bowl up to the fire, thanked Hestia, sipped, and handed it to Ikarios. A smile played across his mobile face as he watched his host. Ikarios’s jaw dropped. The stranger gestured for him to give the bowl to Phanothea, then he handed the small bowl to Erigone.

“Drink,” he whispered to her. Never taking her eyes from his face, she did as she was bid. Her mouth filled with a strange sweetness and a puzzling undertone of bitterness. She held it in her mouth for a long moment before she swallowed. Warmth followed the liquid down her throat and into her stomach.

“What is this?” said Ikarios in a tone of fear and reverence. “The nectar served upon Mount Olympos must taste much like this.”

The young man rose to his feet, his head brushing the ceiling of the little hut. White teeth gleamed in a smile that promised delight and ferocity. His voice, though not loud, rang inside the small abode like a silver bell.

“I am Dionysos,” he said, “son of Zeus and thrice-blessed Semele. This is my gift to mankind. This is wine.”

Dionysos stayed with Erigone’s family for a full moon phase, teaching them the cultivation of the vines and explaining how to press the juice of the grapes and ferment it. Ikarios, always a careful study, listened and learned rapidly.

All too soon the family gathered in front of the house to see their mentor off. Phanothea had filled a sack with dried goat meat, bread and figs, which the young man carried slung over his shoulder along with his wine bags. He embraced Ikarios, bowed gravely to Phanothea and knelt before Erigone. She was weeping unashamedly.

“Why do you have to go?” she gasped, lifting wet eyes to his face. “We love you.”

He cupped her face in his long, beautiful fingers. His purple eyes gazed deeply into hers. “I am not made to stay in one place, my small friend,” he told her. “My gifts must be spread widely, and thus my cultus. It is important that your family aid me in this endeavor.” As she blinked at him uncomprehendingly he kissed her forehead. “I love you too,” he whispered. “I always will.”

He stepped into the road and out of their lives. Their last glimpse of him as he rounded a curve was his final wave, his joyous laughter wafting to them through the bright air. Maera sat in the middle of the road and howled.

Ikarios tended his new vineyard with zeal. The first year the vines produced just a few little grapes, not enough to press. There were more the second year. In the autumn of the third year, as Erigone approached adulthood, the clusters of grapes hung sweet and fat, glowing like jewels in the hot sunshine. The family remembered the instructions left to them by the beautiful young god, pressing the juice and fermenting it in the jars Phanothea had made for them as the vines matured. They set most of the jars aside to age, but as the autumn gew colder and the leaves flew, they opened the first jar and tasted the wine. It was sharp and bitter, but the heat that they remembered from their visitor’s brew warmed their bellies and made them laugh.

Ikarios set aside a few jars of new wine to take to the agora in Athens, a few days journey from their home. Erigone was awakened a few days before market day by a roar from the vineyard. She ran outside to find her father stomping between the vines, examining the nibble marks on their trunks and leaves. A billy goat leapt over a broken-down place in the fence, eyes wide, Maera at his heels. As Erigone and Phanothea stared, Ikarios strode after the goat, dragged him to the stump behind the hut where their butchering took place, and after a swift prayer, cut his throat.

Ikarios’s brow was thunderous as he began to butcher the goat. “Those vines are a divine blessing,” he growled to his women who were still staring wordlessly at him. “No goat will defile them.” His angry gaze fell on Maera. “If you let that happen again, you’ll join him.” Maera’s ears and tail drooped.

Erigone was excited to go to market with her father for the first time. They loaded up their donkey with the jars and fabrics Phanothea had made to trade, goat milk and goat meat, and the skin of the billy goat who had raided their vineyard, sewn into a round sack and filled with air. Finally, Ikarios added the jars of new wine.

Trade was brisk at the agora. Phanothea was known for her skill in weaving but even more so as a bard. Soon there was a crowd around her as she sang the song she had created about a fascinating stranger bearing gifts of knowledge and delight. As she sang, Ikarios passed around cups of the new beverage, grinning with satisfaction at the reactions from the crowd. When the song was finished he threw the inflated goat skin into their midst, roaring with laughter at the impromptu game of kickball that ensued among the folk, intoxicated with wine and camaraderie.

The family arrived home well after dark, warm despite the cold of the star-spangled night, laden with the goods from the market. It had been their most successful day of trading ever.

That night, Erigone slept warm in her cot, snuggled into a new fur blanket, and dreamed of Dionysos.

In early spring, when the very first spears of snowdrops and crocus poked through the snow, Ikarios opened the first of the saved wine jars. A rich odor permeated the hut. Erigone turned from the loom where her mother was instructing her and followed her nose to her father, who stood staring into the dark depths of the jar.

“Father!” she said. “It doesn’t smell anything like it did last autumn.”

“No,” he agreed. He looked at his wife. She nodded sharply.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked. “Let’s taste it!”

Erigone fetched water while Ikarios poured the strong wine into a bowl, then diluted it with water. The taste, while still sharper than the wine from Dionysos’s bag, was more mellow and sweet than the new wine. But the heat that coiled in their bellies was now familiar. They sat for a while before the fire, enjoying the warmth from inside and out.

Phanothea rose. “We must create a shrine to this god,” she said. “This is a gift unlike any other.”

Ikarios nodded. “And more. We must take this gift and spread it among the people of our land. He left us to spread his worship and his gift. Can we do less?”

Spring was well underway when Ikarios left his home, the donkey once again laden, but this time with jars of wine. Maera went with him, dancing with excitement at the adventure, the plume of her tail waving madly. Phanothea and Erigone saw him off, waving as he rounded the corner where four years ago they had seen Dionysos disappear. The two women put their arms around each other and stood looking at the empty road for a long time.

A moon phase passed. Then another. The days were longer, the sun warmer, the earth softer. Phanothea and Erigone tended the goats, made cheese, spun thread, wove linen cloth, planted the garden and made clay pots, but nothing could deflect their growing concern.

As the two women worked in the vineyard one warm afternoon they heard a familiar sound from far down the road. It grew closer. They stood. Erigone dropped the paring knife she was holding.

“Mother, it’s Maera!” she cried. Lifting her skirt, she ran out into the road, Phanothea following.

Maera rounded the curve and flew to the girl, throwing herself into Erigone’s arms. She was skin and bones, her thick fur matted and filthy, her body covered with wounds, her beautiful tail dragging in the dirt. Her voice rose, no longer a bark but a wail, a terrible sound.

Erigone felt a chill run through her. She held the crying dog, rocking back and forth, but nothing soothed poor Maera. Phanothea and Erigone led her back to their home, combed and washed her, tended her knots and cuts and bleeding paws, and fed her gruel. Despite her starved condition, the dog barely touched her food, crying and whimpering until she fell into a twitching, exhausted sleep before the fire.

The women stared at each other.

“I must go find him,” said Erigone. “I’ll leave in the morning. I’ll take Maera with me.”

“You cannot,” replied her mother. “It’s too dangerous.”

“I must,” repeated Erigone. Phanothea said no more, but turned to start packing.

Erigone and Maere headed west, then turned north, as Ikarios had planned to do. During the first week they met homesteaders like themselves who remembered meeting Ikarios and expressed delight at the wine he had shared with them.

But soon thereafter they came to a small hamlet where furtive glances and closed doors were as eloquent as Maera’s shivering and pain-filled eyes. The hope in Erigone’s heart withered. Before she met the woman who told her the grim story, she knew. She came to a dwelling on the outskirts of the hamlet where a woman was feeding a flock of chickens. She started as she saw the thin dog, and her face fell as she beheld the desperation in the young girl’s eyes.

“Yes,” she replied to Erigone’s now-familiar inquiry. “I saw him, and his dog as well. You’d better come inside.” She led Erigone into the little home and gave her refreshments as xenia required, then took her hands and gazed into her tired face.

The story that she told struck Erigone like a blow. Ikarios had arrived in the hamlet more than a moon phase prior, just a few wine jugs left, Maera prancing at his side. The herdsmen and fishermen who were nearby were called home and everyone gathered to hear his tale, and, more importantly, to taste his exciting new beverage— a gift, as he said, from a god. He produced an inflated goatskin bag, and the community spent a wonderful afternoon drinking the wine and playing with the bag, kicking it, laughing, falling down and making fun of each other.

Several of the men drank a great deal of the wine and fell heavily asleep after staggering around the hamlet and speaking incoherently. Others who had indulged less tried to wake them but could not. That was when one of the young men, after vomiting up purple liquid, shouted, “Poison! This man has poisoned us!”

The woman was silent for a time. When she resumed the story, she spoke hesitantly. Ikarios had begged the folk of the hamlet to see reason. Then he had begged for his life. The men sent the women and children into their homes and dragged him away. She said that was all she knew. But her face belied her words.

When her story was told, the woman turned her eyes from Erigone’s face. She escorted the girl out of the house and closed the door behind her. Erigone stood frozen, a voice inside her head screaming “No, no, no, no, no.” She didn’t recognize the voice, her own voice, her voice when she had still been a very little girl.

Maera took Erigone’s skirt in her teeth and tugged. Erigone stared down at the dog with sightless eyes. She pulled the skirt free, ran to the house and pounded on the door.

“Where is he?” she screamed. “Where is my father’s body? What have you done with him? I must perform the rites!” She beat her fists on the door until they ran with blood, but no one answered. Ripping her hands through her hair, she ran to the center of the hamlet and cried aloud, ululating, her sobs tearing through the soft afternoon sunshine.

No one came to see. The doors stayed shut. Erigone wept with only Maera howling a dirge with her.

Finally Erigone collapsed into exhausted silence. She sat alone in the dust.

Once again Maera tugged at her mistress’s skirt. Erigone lifted bleary eyes and saw the dog, thin and knotted with bruises, and rose wearily to her feet. Maera trotted toward a hill that lay to the south of the village, stopped and looked back to make sure Erigone was following her, then led her up and over the hill.

On an open field, about a mile from the hamlet, stood a gnarled oak tree and an old well. As Maera topped the hill she threw back her head and howled, a terrible sound of grief and fury. She ran down the hill and across the field, throwing herself down at the stones around the well, her body shaking in paroxysms of horror. Erigone ran after her, almost tripping over large stones that lay scattered before the well. She looked around wildly. There was no sign of Ikarios. She hurried over to the great tree. Caught on a branch she saw a torn piece of cloth, fluttering in the gentle breeze. She reached up for it and turned it over in her hands. Her mother’s needlework was as familiar to her as the sound of her singing. Erigone was holding a piece of her father’s traveling cloak.

She looked back at the well. It was clearly long abandoned, probably dry, but the stones that bordered its rim had been torn up and lay disheveled in the soft grass. Some of them bore dark stains.

Erigone crept to the mouth of well. Maera howled one last time and lay silent, panting. The girl peered over the lip. The well was deep. Darkness mercifully hid what lay below, but the smell left no doubt as to where Ikarios had finally escaped his tormentors.

Erigone staggered to the shade of the oak and collapsed. Maera crept into her arms. They lay intertwined for a long, long time.

Dusk inched across the field from the western mountains. The shadow of the oak tree stretched and deepened. As the sun slid out of sight and the sky turned lavender and pearl, Erigone rose. She tore her robe into strips and tied them together, good, tight knots as her father had taught her. She looped the rope over her arm and climbed into the oak tree, not too high, just enough to find a good stout branch. She was a slight girl, and not very tall. She tied one end of the rope firmly to the branch, the other around her neck. She let go of the tree and fell.

Maera watched until the form stopped jerking and swung gently in the gathering dark. She did not make any sound. As night fell across the field, stars blazing in the heavens, the dog walked slowly to the well. She paused on the rim, then jumped in.

In the deep darkness before rosy-fingered dawn brightened the sky, a figure appeared silhouetted against the stars. The form of a tall young man, hair in riotous curls about his head, strode to the well, then the tree. Luminous tears, shimmering pale violet, ran down his cheeks.

By the time the sun rose, tree and well were empty. There was no one in the field where horrors had taken place.

As time passed, something terrible stalked grimly through Athens and the villages and hamlets surrounding it. The figure of a maiden, slender and slight, with burning amber eyes, was reportedly seen near groups of playing children.

For no reason that anyone could explain, young girls began hanging themselves from trees, first one or two, then a few, then many. Parents tried to keep their daughters in sight at all times, but just as children have always done, girls found ways to elude the watchful eyes and found trees. They hanged themselves alone. Best friends and sisters swung from trees together. In some unspeakable instances, entire groves creaked and danced with great clusters of ghastly fruit. In one hamlet, where a deflated goatskin ball lay abandoned in the weeds, every single girl under the age of twenty took their own lives and those of the baby girls and toddlers they brought with them to the tree.

Phanothea left her empty home, abandoning her goats, her loom and her vineyard, and made her way to Delphi where she appealed to the Pythia, the oracular priestess of Apollon. When she had her answer, she created a new form of verse, the hexameter, and composed a song that was soon sung in every home on the Attikan plains. It told the story of Ikarios and Erigone, and how at the Anthesteria, the festival of flowers in late winter, their shades could be propitiated. The Aiora, the festival of swings, was instituted to appease the shade of Erigone. As bright ribbons fluttered from branches, and laughter echoed from swings installed from strong boughs, sanity returned to the girls of the region.

Phanothea stayed in Delphi and spent the rest of her life in service to Apollon and the Pythia.

The folk of Attika noticed new stars gleaming in the skies. One shone within the constellation of Canis Minor, where Maera now hunts joyfully across the night sky as Procyon. The constellation known as Bootes, or Arcturus, shines with the soul of Ikarios. Erigone is honored as the beautiful constellation Virgo.

They shine down upon the whole world, a gift to all. A gift no less beloved and far less dangerous than the liquid amethyst, the blood of the grape, the heady wine of Dionysos.


Posted March 25, 2021 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

A PSA I posted to Reddit: “Deity work” is not dangerous!   Leave a comment

OMG. This is just wonderful.


You, yes you, all the way in the back:

“Deity work” is not dangerous.

This is an insidious lie that damages communities, and activelyharms people.

Gods, and having relationships with them, are not any more dangerous than interacting with any other human being. It is no more dangerous than getting behind the wheel of your car. It is no more dangerous than showing up to work. It is no more dangerous than cooking dinner.

That is, thereisa risk. But it is not what you seem to think it is: it is dangerous if you lack basic respect for that – or in this case,Whom- you are interacting with.

You know who claims gods are dangerous? People who are selfish assholes. People who want to convince you they have special abilities or training that you don’t. People who want power and attention. People who wrongly, stupidly,

View original post 1,292 more words

Posted February 13, 2021 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

The Erinyes   2 comments

Yay! My LSQ is out! Let’s see if the link actually posts. WP has been giving me problems with this.

No. Okay. C&P the whole thing.

The Erinyes

The temple of Apollon at Delphi in the pearly light of dawn. The Pythia, oracle priestess of the god, enters the temple to commence morning prayers.

Seconds later she runs out, screaming. Looking in through the open door we can see an exhausted and terrified young man, dripping blood. He is seated upon the omphalos, the huge boulder within the sanctuary that is the sacred navel of the world. He holds a bloody sword and an olive branch wreathed in white wool.

He is surrounded by women, sleeping on benches.

And oh, such women. Rustling, murmuring, heaving like a herd of seals in their black rags and tattered feathers. Even in their slumber they incite mindless terror.

Thus opens The Eumenides, the third play in the trilogy of the Oresteia by Aeschylus. Orestes has made it to the temple of Apollon to seek sanctuary from the terrible Erinyes, or Furies, who are seeking vengeance for his murder of his own mother. But if he dares move from the omphalos, they will be upon him.

Legend has it that brave warriors screamed and fainted when the skene door opened to show the Furies surrounding the hapless Orestes. Pregnant women miscarried on the spot (belying the conventional wisdom that women weren’t allowed into the theaters).

It was a sensation.

Hyperbole, most likely, but it underscores the fear with which the ancient Greeks regarded the Erinyes, ancient goddesses of justice and retribution. The punishments are terrible. Orestes was right to shelter in the only place that might give him sanctuary from their vengeance. Madness, disease, starvation, and agony are just a few of the weapons in their arsenal. In some ancient depictions they just look like winged women, but in most they are ghastly, with snakes entwined in their hair and coiled around their waists, carrying whips, with the faces of hags. In later works they’re said to serve Hades and Persephone by torturing criminals for eternity in a prequel to the Christian Hell.

If the attention of these goddesses seems extreme, consider what it must have been like to live in a society with no police force, jail, or rehabilitation systems. Travelers could die if not given shelter, but who today would unlock the door and welcome an unexpected stranger to their hearth? Without ironclad taboos against foul play, endless clan vengeance was the only recourse (and indeed, that is at the heart of Aeschylus’s trilogy.) Fear of divine retribution was all that kept citizens of a nefarious bent from preying upon the more generous of the population.

Their parentage differs according to source, but most consider them born of the drops of blood that fell to the earth when Kronus castrated his father Ouranos. They are more ancient than the Olympians, and while some say they bring about the will of Zeus, a more likely explanation is that the god of Law rarely has cause to interfere with the punishments meted out by these goddesses. They number at least three: Alekto, or Anger; Magaera, or Jealousy; Tisiphone, or Avenger. Crimes against the natural order are the ones most likely to get their attention—violence against family members, particularly the elderly or very young; murder, especially within a family (killing in battle is exempt); hubris, or disrespect toward the gods; violation of xenia, the ancient law of reciprocal hospitality.

Orestes is the only recorded victim who escaped their wrath, and it took a gigantic societal shift for it to happen. After a trial with the Erinyes as prosecutors, Apollon as defense attorney and Athena as judge, the court system takes over judgment in these cases. The Furies are forced to accept being relegated to protective spirits, propitiated in a temple built for them in Athens and being re-named the Eumenides, or Kindly Ones. Clearly this is an effort to keep them pacified, like referring to meddlesome fae as the Good Folk.

Theseus, that bold-faced buccaneer, gets rescued from being stuck to a stone chair and whipped endlessly by the Furies when Herakles comes along and yanks him free. He leaves behind the skin of his buttocks, later healed by a skin graft from a sheep. His descendants are said to keep warm in winter from wearing the wool grown on the arse of their esteemed ancestor.

But if you’re not lucky enough to have a mighty hero, or in Orestes’s case a god or two, in your court, you’re going to have to rely on purification and atonement. Herakles himself learned this lesson after murdering his wife and children, then suffering madness at the hands of the Erinyes. His purification ritual was so intense that it became the basis for the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries, which provide appropriate cleansing for the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, which require stringent ritual purity. The Argonautika describes rites used by the witch Circe to free a murderer from torment by the Erinyes, and other sources tell how one can use the blood of a piglet or a nice fat steer or, more reliably, the intercession of Apollon. But atonement of some sort is always required. No free rides when it comes to the Erinyes.

Voices in the wind. They shriek and gibber. Fear knots in the pit of your stomach. They are coming.

Search your mind. Have you violated the ancient laws? Have you disrespected your parents or abused the elderly? Committed murder? Have you behaved improperly toward a supplicant of your favor? Worst of all, have you violated xenia?

If so, beware. The goddesses who govern curses that haunt any of these types of criminality will pursue you relentlessly, to madness, death, and beyond.

Better start running.


Posted January 25, 2021 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

The Future Is More Than Us   3 comments

This post, by Kaye, is so damn good. So friggin’ good.

Posted January 16, 2021 by suzmuse in Uncategorized