The Goddess who got away?

There’s a new dating reality show on Amazon where six young singles, looking for love, are taken to a lush resort setting. The premise of the show is that most people have met “the One” before the age of 25–but they may not have realized it at the time. And so, one by one, people from their past come through a misty “portal” so that they can explore these relationships and see if any of them are “the one that got away.” The singles go on dates with their “arrivals” (who are put up in a nearby “guest house,”), explore their feelings for them, and either keep on seeing them or send them back through the “portal” to see who else might come through. They spend a lot of the show sorting through confusion as they try to work out who they are really vibing with, who would fit into their lives, and who is best able to meet their wants and needs.

At the beginning of this year, I decided I was going to spend it “dating the gods” to try and figure out who wants to work with me and who I want to work with, who fits best into my life, and who might not be the best choice for me at this time. Of course, this entire process goes both ways, just as with the singles on the show–and I’ve spent most of it just as confused as they were.

Poseidon was the first god to come through the “portal” for me, back in January. As we approach the end of the “season,” it’s still working out, and he’s definitely a keeper. Poseidon doesn’t have a great reputation among many pagans, with all the jealousy, territorialism, temper tantrums, and rapes that plague his myths. He has faced enormous obstacles, though: as the firstborn son of Rhea and Kronos, he nonetheless had to yield pride of place to his brother Zeus, who was the sibling to escape being devoured by their murderous father, and thus the one to rescue the others. Like water,  the element he rules, Poseidon is volatile by nature–as a result of which, he has spent most of his long existence learning to master those tendencies in himself, and that effort has borne fruit. As we would say today, he has “done the work.” In stark contrast to the way he is portrayed in classical myth, the Poseidon you’ll meet now is very self-controlled, very Zen, very compassionate towards those who have their own personal struggles to overcome, and is arguably one of the best deities to work with if, like me, you have anger issues, dark places, and sharp edges. (In addition to being neurodivergent from the get-go.) He has all of those things too, and can show you how to live with them without destroying yourself or others, how to navigate the raging storms of life and murky depths as well as the sparkling blue waters and gentle tides. Although he was not my first choice of gods, he is proving to be the best god for me.

I still have a strong bond with Odin, and always will. But, true to his nature, Odin comes and goes through the “portal” as he pleases. I can’t send him away, and I can’t make him stay here. And that’s just who he is. I’ve spent most of my years with him fighting that, and it’s been the cause of much drama and misery between us. So now, he is welcome when he’s here, and when he isn’t–well, someone else usually is. At the same time, I know he is a heavy-hitter who will be at my back if and when I need him to be.

I’m confident these two are going to be more or less permanent (or at least, in Odin’s case, recurring) fixtures in my life, but this past year or so I’ve become fixated on the idea of working closely with a goddess as well. I don’t have a great track record with goddesses in general; I don’t seem to click with them on more than a surface level, so they come and go. I think part of my difficulty in accepting and embracing them has to do with internalized misogyny–which is a good part of why I’m determined to make it work this time.

The Virgin Mary came into my life last year when my daughter was expecting, and for a while praying the rosary gave me some relief from the anxiety I had over her pregnancy and delivery. Never having been Christian, I didn’t pray it in the “proper” fashion; I didn’t focus on the Mysteries. Instead, my approach was very transactional: “I’m offering this rosary for my daughter’s safe delivery, and the health of my grandson.” And it very possibly worked, since although there were some complications everything ended up going well (in a southern state with a very high record of maternal mortality–especially for Black women, which my daughter is). I developed, and still hold, quite a lot of affection for Mary (and a whole lot of gratitude), and was very tempted to dedicate to her. But although she is an ally I will not hesitate to call on again if the need arises, I ended up deciding that the road she seems to lead to (Jesus, Catholicism, etc.) is one I don’t especially want to go down. (Buuuut…the jury is still out on this, because I’m not at all sure she isn’t the very same person as–or at least, a syncretic version of–the goddess I have decided to re-explore a relationship with. About which, more in a minute.) As with Odin, I don’t have the power to send Mary back through “the portal.” Work with her actively or not, she’s going to more or less come and go as she pleases.

When he first arrived, Poseidon brought Aphrodite with him, and although I am in awe of her (there is so much more to her than most people think!), she has stayed mostly on the periphery. Her main lesson to me has been about accepting my own innate worth as something independent of the way I look or of what I am contributing to those around me. I exist, therefore I am worthy; everything else is icing on the cake. Freyja has brought a similar message (and I suspect these two goddesses are also more or less syncretic, or even one and the same…which, if you know Freyja, will give you some idea of the depth and complexity of Aphrodite).

Hekate has come through a few times, but I don’t want to deal with the expectations I fear she might have of me. (I feel like it would be too much like working with Odin, only starting from the beginning without the hard-won understanding and familiarity I now share with him.)

I’ve wished Asherah would come through, but then again, her presence in my life (as the Hebrew goddess, the rejected Queen of Heaven of my mother’s ancestral faith) would open up an entirely different can of worms I’m not sure I want to deal with. I’m not any more interested in being swallowed up by Judaism than I am by Christianity. And I feel like at this stage of my life, it’s much too late to make that kind of hard right turn. (Also, Asherah too overlaps with Mary. It feels a bit like, after the Jews tossed her out, she was picked up by the Egyptians, and later on by the Church.)

I’ve recently become fascinated by Circe (and am in the process of gobbling up, like so much buttered popcorn, the bestselling novel by Madeline Miller), but I think that in my own practice she may end up being a folk saint to honor and learn from (alongside people like Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth Woodville, and Cleopatra) rather than a patron goddess per se.

The confusion and frustration I’ve been dealing with, let me show you it. There are many goddesses I could work with, but are any of them right for me? And do any of them even care? I don’t want one of them to condescend to work with me because one of the gods I work with thinks I’m cool and asks them to humor me. (Also, this may sound weird, but I seem to have decided that I don’t want to pick a goddess from either the Norse or Greek pantheons, because I feel that would tip the balance of power in my life too much towards either Poseidon or Odin. I know, weird. It must be my Libra cusp coming through.)

Going back to the premise of the reality show we started with, there are only two deities who I met before the age of 25 but maybe didn’t give the relationship the time and attention they deserved. One of those was Lucifer. Whose place in my life has yet to become clear, but who is always lurking somewhere in my consciousness, even though I’m not working with him currently in any kind of tangible way. When I glance in his direction, his smile says our story is not over yet.

The other was Isis.

Isis has been around me since childhood, to the point where even my mother remarked that I must have “walked the desert” with her in a previous existence. The Mistress of Magic and Great Mother of ancient Egypt, her worship later spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. In fact, because the cult of Isis was one of young Christianity’s biggest competitors in the Roman empire, a lot of Isis’ names and attributes ended up being passed on to Mary in an effort to get more pagans to convert. Before Odin stormed into my life, she was my longest running spiritual relationship (since I had known her even longer than Lucifer). The first mythology I became familiar with in my life was the Greek; the second was the Egyptian. In elementary school, I was incorporating hieroglyphs into school art projects. I was Cleopatra for Halloween. I was always reading some dorky grown-up book about the ancient Egyptians. I was always begging my parents to take me back to the University of PA museum, with its mummies and Egyptian artifacts. My mother took me to Washington DC to try to get tickets to the King Tut exhibit at the Smithsonian, and when we couldn’t get in, she made sure I got to see it at the Met in New York a few months later. I was sure I wanted to be an Egyptologist when I grew up.

This obsession continued into my teens and twenties. As soon as I began to identify as a pagan and witch, I felt sure that Isis would be my lifelong patron goddess. And then, in my thirties, Odin happened.

But now, she has come through the portal, almost hesitantly, as if unsure of her welcome. And it has me thinking. Before I was a Norse-flavored pagan, I would have considered myself mostly an Egyptian-flavored one. During the months with Poseidon, the Olympian gods have begun to feel more and more like family (much as the Norse gods have for the past two decades). But the Egyptian gods also felt that way for me, at one point in my life. Maybe the time has come to start my journey with Isis again. Maybe, for me, she really is “the one that got away.”

And just like that…

I put Odin’s things back up a few nights ago, in the witchy room. (They had been in the attic–yes, I finally have one! A basement, too.) Not the more personal items (yet), but the mini statues of Him, Frigga, Freyja, and Freyr (I still need something for Loki and Sigyn), and a few crystals, my dumortierite spindle, and the hand-thrown offering cup I used to use for Him. I poured some vodka into the cup and offered it to Them collectively, along with the Hail to Thee Day prayer. Like a newbie, I expressed the desire to know Them better, because in some ways I don’t think I ever knew Them well at all–or not well enough, anyway. And then I got ready for bed.

About a half hour later, Odin showed up and sat at the end of my bed. I told Him that I knew I had screwed up, and that I was sorry. He replied that He had also screwed up, and He was sorry too. We both agreed that we want to work on rebuilding the relationship, that we still matter to each other and this is something worth saving.

THIS DOES NOT MEAN EVERYTHING IS FIXED. Despite the title of this post. The things that happened still happened, the things that were said were still said. Ignoring this and trying to just pick up where we left off is why, every time He’s come back before, it has not worked.

But at some point, as Aphrodite said to me a few days ago when I set up Her shrine, you have to either make an effort or give up for good and move on. I hadn’t really committed to doing either until now. So the first step is taken, but this is going to have to be a new relationship, not the one we had before, if it’s going to last–and we both know that. Reconciliation is complicated, uncomfortable, and messy, and there are probably going to be missteps on both sides. We both know that, too.

Another pearl of wisdom from Aphrodite: “Don’t give Him everything this time, even if He asks for it. Especially if He asks for it. Keep some things back. If you give Him everything, what is left for Him to want?” In the background, I sense Freyja nodding in agreement.

Who knew what I needed was to bring in the Greeks?

The Feels

I’ve been missing Odin this week, and I’m trying not to because I feel like He basically told me to go to Hell. (Both figuratively and literally: He did suggest, a while back, that I might try working with the goddess Hel, His niece.) Of course, I’m not sure I didn’t say the same thing to Him first–not that it was unprovoked, if I did.

It doesn’t matter, though; He isn’t good for me, and Poseidon is, even if I do feel awkward about working with a deity I still mostly think of as Jo’s. (I know that will change in time, the longer I work with Him.) I’ve loved Poseidon for years, as a big brother/co-spouse to Jo, I’ve been an advocate of His with her for all of that time, and He’s been a member of our household, of our family. And my lifelong love of the ocean doesn’t hurt, either! He certainly isn’t going anywhere while I have any say in it. And He is the one who reached out to take my hand while I was drowning in depression and confusion.

Odin was my spouse for nearly two decades and I do still love Him. I probably always will. But it’s complicated. We are a perfect example of the couple who burns hot, hot, hot and then suddenly cold. (Isn’t there even a mention of that in the Havamal? I think there might be.) He definitely brings the drama, or His people do, and that isn’t something I really want in my life anymore. (Not even Lucifer–who seems to have pretty much wended elsewhere since the move to MA–was able to put an end to it.)  I’ve heard Odin devotees online talk about how He’s a difficult god to love, and I used to agree with that, but now I agree more with Poseidon’s silent arched eyebrow in response. Is He really hard to love, or does He just project that so that people will love Him while He just continues to do exactly as He pleases?

Side note: Poseidon and Odin are bros, through long-suffering experience with me and Jo, and I’m still not sure Odin didn’t ask Him to take care of me for a while and coax me towards taking Him back. But that isn’t to say He (Poseidon) approves of His (Odin’s) methods 100% of the time.

When I refer to “working” with  Poseidon, by the way, I’m being generous to myself, since I haven’t been getting very much work done in terms of meditation, yoga, devotionals, eating better, or anything else He’s suggested that might improve my mental state or our connection. Also, I now feel overwhelmed by the idea of Wicca; it’s too complicated, and it’s just not me. Folk magic is my jam, it just is. I’m not the ceremonial type, to any degree. I’m rarely even the ritual type. Also, when did I decide it wasn’t enough to be just a Witch? (Okay, I KNOW Wicca is not really that complicated–at least, it doesn’t have to be. But I’ve been reading a really complicated book about it–and yeah, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed.)

I’m also not sure about the panentheism I was so eager to embrace, because despite the fact that Poseidon can get fuzzy with His identity (I saw it happen with Jo, so I’m prepared) let’s not pretend that I don’t still hear and experience the gods as distinct individuals (when I bother to listen to Them at all, that is). I’m not at all confident that I’m not still trying to gaslight myself in regard to my aspirations to conform to some saner version of paganism, and if I am I need to quit it. The whole idea of this latest batch of spiritual changes was not to make myself into someone I’m not, but to help me deal with my brain (especially until I can get back on medication again).

I’ve been reading about Hellenismos, though I’m not sure how deep I’ll go with actually practicing it (which is fine as far as Poseidon is concerned). Zeus stuck His head in to say hi (this was just a courtesy; it’s His brother, and His pantheon). Hekate gave me another poke (there was a sense of “you know we could get up to some delicious mischief together”), and I have sensed Hermes lingering on the outskirts of my consciousness (but is it Hermes-Hermes or Odin-Hermes?). But mostly They know I can’t deal with more People right now. Not yet.

I like the old polytheisms, and I like the old gods. (I may have developed a liking for Mary, but no one has to worry that I’m going to convert or anything like that; I wasn’t even raised Christian, and if JC should come round I’ll treat Him like just another deity–no more, no less.)  I’m even beginning to enjoy making things for the gods again, which was a driving passion for me before this crisis began. And I do miss aspects of Norse paganism; I might even be homesick for it, even though practicing it again would be tricky with (at least for now) feeling the need to keep Odin at a distance.. Right now, I’m trying not to make long-term plans spiritually, just get through each day. 

But the big revelation of the week is that I have a habit of taking things I love away from myself. Which I hadn’t realized before now, but it certainly does track. And it’s something to consider, in all of this.

I have been doing some house reorganizing, since as happy as I was to finally have a witchy room, I don’t ever use it, and both Poseidon and Aphrodite want Their spaces to be downstairs in the part of the house where the family spends the most time. (Really, the only room we use upstairs is the bedroom.) They want to be part of things, not locked away in a room I forget to visit. (Not that They actually are locked in that room, but you know what I mean.) So I’m working on that, and I’ll share results when I have it all squared away.

Late January 2022 Update (yes, I’m still here!)

Wow, I hadn’t meant to let so much time go by before posting again, but here we are!

Despite the stark beauty of the landscape, I am not enjoying my first New England winter, and neither is Molly; it’s just a level of cold beyond anything either of us has had to deal with during our lifetimes, and my body is adjusting to it poorly. The weather means it’s not always possible to go out for walks, I desperately miss riding my trike, and my digestive issues and unmedicated depression (we couldn’t get doctor appointments til March, so prescriptions can’;t get refilled) have meant I’m not doing well at disciplining myself to get into an indoor exercise routine. (So that’s one of my goals for February, and I’ll try to remember to share here what I end up doing!) In addition to that, winter is the worst time for my fibro pain, and as an added bonus I’ve been having pain and loss of mobility in my left arm since getting my Covid booster in December. (Dr. Google tells me there’s a rare but underreported issue where if the shot goes too high into the shoulder it can cause an injury. It’s not because the vaccine is for Covid; it’s just a badly done vaccine application. But wow, does it hurt. And it can last for six months or maybe indefinitely, so lucky me!)

Spiritually and emotionally, I am starting to do a little better. I’ve started taking St. John’s wort for the depression, so that helps a bit, but primarily help came from a direction I had not expected: Poseidon! (And, having lived with Jo for two decades, I’m not even starting out as a complete beginner with him. I did feel a little awkward at first about working with him because of his history with Jo–but hey, she suggested it, and the suggestion was a good one!) We get along well and he has been a soothing presence in the house since I invited him (back) in. He is helping me find more patience and compassion for myself, as well as baby-stepping me into a new foundation for a spiritual practice. That  foundation is being built on panentheism, which allows for polytheism within it but takes a softer focus than I have applied in the past. (And that softer focus is giving me more peace of mind.) The practice itself is going to be Wicca–not initiatory Wicca, of course, but Hermetic Wicca as I study it on my own with the help of books and other resources. It’s ironic to me that a Wicca-esque practice is where I started out, and now–after two decades of wandering in the wilds of heathenry and hard polytheism–it’s where I am returning.

Poseidon is also bringing Aphrodite along with him, although I’m taking my time getting to know her; there is no rush. I need to rebuild my self-love, self-esteem, and sense of empowerment, all of which have suffered badly with the spiritual shifts I’ve been through. There is a bit of irony here also, as my first deities (before Odin) were Osiris and Isis, and I am certainly seeing overlaps.

My relationships with Lucifer and Mary are currently back-burner and I don’t know yet whether that will change, or whether they’ve just run their course.  I’ve learned valuable lessons from both, about freedom and agency (and their relationship with service), and about the love of a mother for her child and how that stays the same even as roles and relationships change, respectively. But I want to move away from both Christian and Jewish influences (having been reminded why I originally rejected both those paths from my childhood), so that’s a factor.

I’ve been getting intimations of jealousy from Odin now that I’ve invited Poseidon in, but the bottom line is that while Odin has been good to me in many ways throughout the years and I will always care about him, ultimately my relationship with him was a bad influence on my emotional state. I’m not even saying that was his fault, since I know I also had a lot to do with it. Maybe he was the wrong deity for that period of my life, and maybe that will change in time. Maybe we can start over. But right now, I’m planning to stick with the Greeks for a while! Years ago, Odin hinted that he has overlaps with Hermes/Mercury, and it may need to be in the person of Hermes that I work with him again, if I do. (I’ve had indications of interest from Hermes as well as from Sulis-Minerva, and I think they could both fit in well with my interests and be a good fit for me a little further down the road, once my foundation is firmer.)

With the winter weather being what it is, I haven’t been able to get a new job because I am not able to handle being outdoors for long and don’t have transportation. (There is a little bus in town but it doesn’t run on the weekends, which pretty much rules out any retail jobs.) Whether I would be able to keep such a job once I got it, with my health issues, is of course another question. I’m only 56 but I often feel like I’m in my seventies, especially with the cold! Losing weight is another goal on my radar, since I feel like it might help my mobility and energy levels. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

I’m realizing that usually the reason I don’t share more is that I’m truly at a loss what to say! I think I allow myself to become too inward-focused, and then it’s really hard to break out of that. Also, I’m a perfectionist and I edit myself in advance and then decide I have nothing worthwhile to say. Hopefully if I can just keep going at posting (quantity over quality) I can set a new habit of speaking out again! After all, you guys aren’t here because you never want to hear from me, are you? So if you have stuck around, thanks again! I’m going to make a posting schedule for myself and really stick to it this time, because you deserve to get at least some regularly-timed blather from me in return.

Meanwhile, I’m not quite sure what to do with my Etsy shop because I have limited funds for craft supplies. (My mother in law owns the house we live in, so we’re not in danger of being evicted, but money is still pretty tight.) The original idea was to promote my Tarot business more because it doesn’t require supplies, so moving ahead with that will be another one of my goals for February. I’ve just tended to suck at it so far due to my general state of mind and lack of interest in calling attention to myself on the internet, particularly while my spiritual practice was still in such a state of flux. (I frankly haven’t felt like I had much to promote, either personally or professionally.)

Two myths about Witchcraft: a rant

Today I wanted to briefly discuss two origin stories that are commonly told about witchcraft, one which was popular 20 years or so ago and one which is popular right now.

The older of these two origin stories talked about the Old ReligionⓇ and the Burning TimesⓇ. According to this story there was a Neolithic culture that venerated a great goddess. Witches were the priestesses of this goddess and healers of the people, guiding them with compassion and wisdom. These priestesses and their teachings went underground with the spread of Christianity, until, during the middle ages, there was a massive, concentrated effort by the Church to weed out the remainder of these magical people. However, although many were arrested, tortured, and killed, the old ways continued to be taught in secret, and some of their descendants survived to become the witches of today.

This account was based on the works of Margaret Murray which have been largely discredited by historians. However, this story still holds spiritual merit for many people, especially in the older generations of the Craft, and was at one time the common history of the Craft that you read in books. What we often forget is that something doesn’t have to be historically accurate and verifiable to hold spiritual value for people. (Look at the historical proof–or lack thereof–for the life and teachings of Jesus, for example.)

The origin story that’s become popular today is very different and goes like this. In Biblical (and apocryphal Biblical) times, God (yes, the Abrahamic God) set angels to watch over the earth. These angels were called the Watchers or the Grigori, and they fell from grace due to their lust for human women. (This is a very different fall from grace story than the one you might be more familiar with.) These fallen angels taught their human women (and the half-angel children resulting from their unions) the arts of war, crafting, witchcraft, et cetera. The descendants of the angels and the human women became the witches, so if you aren’t of this line of descent you are not a proper witch. (Although, how would one go about proving or disproving such a thing?)

Then, during the Middle ages, many women and men were arrested and tortured in an attempt to make them admit to being witches. There is some truth to this part of the story in that the trial records do actually exist and we know that many of these people did, under duress, admit to practicing witchcraft and to attending the witch’s Sabbat, worshiping the Devil, casting spells, and a number of other practices now associated with “traditional witchcraft.”. People who favor this origin story use it to promote their view that witches are transgressive figures who have never been honored as priests or priestesses but were instead always social outcasts regarded with suspicion by their wider communities. They also argue that if you are going to call yourself a witch you should model yourself after these trial records and pursue the practices described in them such as spirit flight, attending the Sabbat, focusing on “darker” magic (witches are “deathwalkers,” and if you aren’t you’re “fluffy”) and worshiping the Devil.

The problem is, this second origin story is also partly fiction, in that most of the people who were tortured and executed were NOT witches or descendants of angels, they were simply too old or too young, poor and powerless, disliked or envied, maybe too ugly or too attractive, alone and without defenders, possibly mentally ill, and in many cases possibly Jewish. (Yes, I said it.) The purpose behind these “witch hunts” was largely to confiscate any property that the victims might have, and a secondary purpose was motivated by revenge on the part of any neighbors they might have pissed off, or who didn’t feel they “fit in.” (Aka they were motivated by racism, prejudice, ignorance, etc.)

The argument I have heard people use in defense of this myth is that so many independent confessions were made that there simply must have been some sort of underlying truth to them, that a witch cult must have existed.  However, I would point out that the common person at that time would have had a VERY good idea of what witchcraft was supposed to look like and consist of, in the eyes of the Church. After all, the process of converting everyone to Christianity had involved the demonizing of the old pagan deities and the old pagan customs. If you look back at the period of Anglo-Saxon conversion to Christianity you can see that there were long, long lists of customs and actions that had been prohibited, including gazing at the moon, making offerings to sacred springs, gathering with a group of others outside at night, working with herbs in certain ways, tying certain types of knots, etc., ad nauseum. In other words, a lot of the mythology of what supposedly made someone a witch, most of which was probably just surviving bits of folklore from the older pagan religions of that particular region, was well known among the common people. Even people who could not read would have had priests telling them to avoid doing these things, so they would have been well versed in what the Church considered witchcraft, and what the trial officials wanted to hear. This does not mean that an elaborate Sabbatic witch cult of the type described in the trial records actually existed. Instead, it is very likely that people confessed out of fear, parroting back these myths in the hope of receiving mercy at the hands of their tormentors, and that Christian imagination supplied the rest.

Why am I going into all of this? Well, I have been seeing a trend in social media of witchcraft “influencers” declaring that you should not call yourself a witch if you aren’t meeting one person’s or someone else’s definition of witchcraft. The definitions of witchcraft seem to change with every generation as far as I can see, yet people keep insisting that theirs is more valid than any of the others that have come before or that will come round in the future.  I know these kinds of confrontational posts are favored by the algorithms and are likely to increase your social media following, but I think the community would be a much happier place and people in general would be happier if we would all just keep our eyes on our own papers so to speak and stop trying to police others on what they’re doing and calling themselves and what beliefs and practices they are including in their own spiritual paths.

Whether your conception of being a witch consists of following pagan gods and pre-christian customs from various cultures, or whether it involves basing your practice on medieval trial records, believing yourself descended from angels, and venerating the Devil and the Lady of Elphame, what works for you works for you.  Neither of these origin myths of witchcraft are historically verifiable or 100% true, but both of them provide inspiration and a feeling of belonging for a number of people, so in short, you do you, boo! Your practice of witchcraft might be inspired by an origin story I haven’t even thought of, and that’s fine too as far as I’m concerned. Just stay in your own lane, and don’t presume to tell me or others what we should call ourselves or what we should do in our own practices. And that’s all I have to say for today. Blessed be.

In Defense of a Black Anne Boleyn

Not that anyone needs me to defend the idea, but…

Today I watched a trailer for the upcoming mini-series starring Jodie Turner-Smith, and I have to admit, I was impressed. By the acting, the cinematography, the music, but most of all by the stated intent of this new entry into the vast collection of works about my beloved doomed queen.

“Dishonest or devoted? Traitor or trailblazer? Sinner or saint? You may know the history…But you don’t know her story.”

The argument has been made that everyone knows what Anne Boleyn looked like, so why bother making her Black? What point are they trying to make? I can’t speak for the original intent of the producers, but in watching the trailer, my attention was drawn to Anne in each and every frame; I couldn’t take my eyes off her. This has not been true in previous versions of the story where she was portrayed by a white actress, no matter how beautiful. Which brings up the crucial thing to understand about Anne: she was not defined by her beauty, but by her uniqueness. With her French upbringing and flair, her intelligence and wit, her sparkle, her passion and ambition, her unconquerable spirit, she captured the heart of one of England’s greatest kings in a way no one could have imagined or foreseen–and she was hated for it as much as she was admired. What must it have been like to be in her presence? What was it about her that drove Henry the VIII to such extremes of uncontrollable love and unrestrainable hatred that he would fight against all of Christendom for a decade to make her his queen, only to throw her to the headsman barely three years after attaining that goal? I have yet to see an actress who I feel captured the indefinable quality she must have possessed, that fierceness of spirit coupled with irresistible allure and a whiff of sacred mystery.

In light of this, what difference does it actually make to have a white-skinned actress playing her? Again, we all have a pretty good idea what she LOOKED like, and no one will be fooled, watching this, into thinking she was a Black woman. What we don’t know, what we can’t grasp from either the flat historical portraits or the conventional modern portrayals, is what she WAS like–and if the trailer is any indication, Turner-Smith’s Anne has some powerful insights to impart. Perhaps even a couple of shattering revelations.

The times have changed since Anne walked the earth, but what girls and women (trans women and girls included) can learn from her even now is that defining ourselves by our relationship to a man can be extremely dangerous, regardless of any short-term rewards. (Again, Anne was Queen of England for less than three years.) But at the same time, we can also learn that sometimes the men around us will be our only means of opening doors, introducing new ideas, gaining a foothold into the machinery of power. Almost 500 years after Anne’s reign came to its tragic end, it is still very much a man’s world. Always, in any fight, women must weigh the potential dangers to ourselves and our loved ones against what stands to be gained. Always, we must cling to our faith, our convictions, and our ideals in spite of any dangers if we are really determined to persevere–as Anne was.

“Fear can be fuel. Let your fear drive you to be bigger, louder,” Turner-Smith’s Anne says. “The sky itself will not limit you.”

In Anne’s case, she lost her throne (and her life) due to her inability to give Henry a “great son for England,” the male child a fortune teller had supposedly predicted she would bear. Instead, she gave him Elizabeth I, the female child who went on to become arguably one of the greatest rulers in all of history, a “great SUN for England.” I wish Henry, misogynistic asshole that he was, (sorry, Anne–for she really did love him,) could have lived to appreciate the irony–not to mention witness the consequences of his utter wrongheadedness. Turns out, his judicial murder of Elizabeth’s mother led his daughter to swear off men, and the resulting lack of heirs produced the untimely end of the Tudor dynasty. Ah, the hindsight allowed us by history.

(I have NO idea when this will be available to watch here in the US, but I can’t wait!)

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