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The Epic Interview Part 2

Hello all! Here is part 2 of the epic interview with author Elizabeth Cunningham, kicking off her new novel Red-Robed Priestess! Enjoy!

Brooke: One aspect that pervades Maeve's journey is a sacred quality of being present in the moment. As I read, I have the sense that Maeve is at home wherever she is, even though she is almost always traveling, even though she doesn't necessarily know where home is anymore. I am aware of her being intimately aware of her surroundings at all times. One of my favorite moments is when Maeve is journeying on her horse, Macha, when Maeve merges with the Whole of her surroundings.

"Macha plunged forward, a warm-blooded ship, riding her own waves. And I felt something tightly coiled loosen in me, unravel and stream behind me on the wind, till it became a high cloud, not even mine anymore, just a part of a sky that was always changing."

How is it possible that Maeve is able to stop and smell the roses, so to speak--feel the softness of nature around her, or merge with all that is, despite her harrowing, high-adrenaline happenings?  Can you talk about where this might come from in her or in your experience?


Elizabeth Cunningham: As you note, Maeve spends a lot of time travelling, especially in Red-Robed Priestess. Much of her life was lived without more shelter than a wattle and daub hut, and often not even that. Although Rome is grand and relatively luxurious (she lives first in an upscale brothel and then in the house of the wealthy Paulina) Maeve is least at home there. She feels positively claustrophobic confined within walls and walking on pavement. Here is a passage from The Passion of Mary Magdalen that describes how she feels when she travels with Paulina outside the city for the first time since she was enslaved.

I could breathe again. That’s what it felt like to me. I know everyone breathes all the time without thinking about it. The cerebral cortex takes care of it. We all eat, too, if we can. And if there’s only stale bread and stagnant water, we’ll swallow it willingly to stay alive. That’s the way I had been breathing in Rome. Now, as the Appian Way took us further and further from Rome, my breathing became like feasting. The air had texture, scent, color—a blue that shimmered in my throat, the taste of things growing in dark dirt. And sound. I breathed in birdsong; I breathed in the whisper of the wind in trees. Even the sounds of our ridiculous over-burdened caravan—wagons creaking, slaves shouting—gave me pleasure. The human world seemed in the right scale: small.

I could breathe again. But breath brings more than bliss. Pain that I had numbed came alive again, too. Buried longing thrust toward light, as fiercely as green shoots in spring. Tears that had gone underground gathered and rose. Out of long habit, I found myself holding my breath again—or trying to. But it didn’t want to be held back anymore. So, I let it out, a huge storm. If tears came with it, so be it.”

Maeve draws strength and life and sustenance from the earth itself. I suppose that is something I share with her. The outdoors always felt safer to me than the indoors, despite wind and weather and potential natural danger.

B: I notice that wisdom for Maeve arrives in the moment, but doesn't hold itself over to be exalted. In fact, if the same wisdom appears later on, it is often a subtle, simple, but poignant message. One instance of this is the hazelnut analogy. Did this simplicity and the quietness of the wisdom in this book surprise you at all when you were writing this story, which simultaneously holds such waves of terror? Is this something you ascribe to your own spirituality?

E.C. The story always surprises me. Although I work very hard at my craft and do not at all think of myself as a channeling in any literal sense, I do live in the story. It unfolds. I trust it. I trust the story and the process of writing more than I trust life outside the story. (My next and ongoing huge challenge: to live with the same kind of trust that I bring to writing). I don’t really know how to separate my spirituality from this story at this point. I have spent the last twenty years, as a friend observed, re-writing the New Testament. Maybe wisdom, however it comes to you, is simple and quiet as in: “Be still and know that I am God.”

B: I love that Maeve is an old gray hag when this book begins. I love that she is a series of contradictions through the entire book-- old and young, weak and strong, wise and clueless, sure and uncertain, a warrior and a healer. I love that her overarching title is lover of the world, and how this plays into all of her relationships. I love that she lives like a nomad, but craves and partakes of luxuries and creature comforts when she can. I love that she doesn't seem to have qualms with any of these contradictions. She presents these apparent contradictions with such nonchalance, aware of them, but seemingly unhindered by them. Can you comment on this phenomenon in her character? Is this something you embody as well? Has the acceptance of self that Maeve seems to have so organically changed the way you view the world or yourself, or in how you counsel other people?

E.C.:I like contradictions. I always have. Maybe it’s because I am a Libra, always seeing from at least two sides. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a churchyard next to door to an enchanted wood. I’ve always walked between the worlds, and all my work reflects that embrace of seeming opposites, starting with my very first novel The Wild Mother. When I began exploring the Divine Feminine aka the Goddess, many pagans insisted that you couldn’t be a pagan if you believe in Jesus and Christians equally held that you could not be a Christian and consort with goddesses. I have always resisted any person or institution that insisted I must choose one view of reality (theirs) and eschew another. My rather long answer to that way of thinking is The Maeve Chronicles. I like to give Maeve ample credit, but the truth is I am a novelist because it gives me the freedom to embrace contradiction. Reading and writing novels informs my work as a counselor as much as any formal training I received.

B: One of the most powerful aspects of this book is the mother daughter relationship. I was fascinated by the delicate balance that Maeve strives to navigate with her daughters. She has so much insight into her daughters and intuits with each how best to act--whether to remain silent or to speak. Or in the case with Sarah (one of my favorite parts) where Maeve gives Sarah what she needed, but what she could never give her--a slap in the face! In the end, despite the challenges in communicating, there is such unconditional love represented. I remark how Maeve doesn't overpower her children, let them overpower her, or lose herself in her fears for or of them. I feel like this is where I am arriving with my two daughters--learning about this delicate balance, after finally abandoning my need to be right, as well as all throwing out the parenting books. Did your ability to navigate these relationships in your writing come from your own parenting, or has writing about these relationships affected your relationships with your children?

E.C.: I think both Maeve and I, like all mothers, learned the hard way, making many mistakes along the way. In Bright Dark Madonna, Maeve is indeed clueless about adolescent Sarah (especially in Sarah’s opinion) and Sarah runs away from home. My daughter did not run away in any literal sense, but there was certainly a time (not always clearly in the past) when I could do no right.

BTW Brooke, some of my favorites among your posts are about your daughters, how you struggle towards wisdom and joy together, how you teach each other. I often wish I had had your grace and intuition when my kids were younger.

My children are both grown and independent now, so maybe something went right. Both my kids have read The Passion of Mary Magdalen but not the later ones. When I said something to my daughter Maeve’s daughter being a pirate, she said “My how autobiographical,” which made me smile.

Maeve’s song “Ave Matres” from Bright Dark Madonna is a tribute to all mothers. I’d like to share it here.

Hail all mothers
graceful or not
god or goddess is with you, believe it or not.

Blessed are all women
and blessed are the fruits of our wombs
whatever names, ridiculous or not, we choose for them
and even when they’re acting rotten.

O mothers
holy human mothers
all our children are divine.

Long after they leave us
they will curse us and pray to us
now and in the hour of our death
now and in the hour of their need.

B: I love how Maeve becomes a geyser of divine speech at times and then brings it back down to a simmer in the next beat, saying to the reader, how she added this or that for good measure, or for essentially dramatic flare. I so loved this aspect of the book!!  Because it always made Maeve's human parts so real and her divine parts digestible as well. There is one point where she is sought for her counsel by the Druids.  Maeve says to the reader: "They wanted, the young man said, the benefit of my wisdom. I don't know if he understood why I laughed." I felt this authentic response of Maeve downplaying her wisdom, and your light treatment of the divine made it more believable and more accessible. Do you feel that bringing the divine down to earth is an important attribute in Maeve's character evolution? in our own evolution?

E.C.: Absolutely! I am an incarnationist all the way. One impetus for writing The Maeve Chronicles was a longing for the divine feminine incarnate. The Goddess in the abstract, even mythic particular goddesses, just weren’t cutting it for me. In Jesus, Christians have God incarnate as a fully human being, someone who walked on this earth, ate and drank, quarreled and loved. I wanted a goddess like that, a goddess with feet! So now I have Maeve. Here is what Maeve has to say about incarnation from The Passion of Mary Magdalen:

My beloved, (my Bridegroom and yours), is often thought of as a mediator, as if we need someone to make our case to his terrible god, to stand between divine wrath and human wickedness. Why not imagine instead a tree, mediating earth and sky? The roots know the mystery of the depths, the dark, the taste of earth and the leaves know the mystery of the heights, the light, the taste of sun. Both are good. In the heart of the tree, where Isis found Osiris, the mysteries meet. They meet in your heart, too.

We are all mediators of divine and human nature. As we drank and danced and embraced at the wedding, we glimpsed each other’s radiance, saw our own reflected. The next day, remarkably rested and fit, considering, we saw our differences again, our annoying traits, our conflicting wills. But I am not here to condemn human nature or to exalt the divine. It’s all good, the grit in the oyster, the stone in the shoe. Stop to shake out the stone. Take a moment to wonder at this place you find yourself: between earth and sky.”

B: I love how you talk about Maeve and the Druids in the dark, getting ready to deliberate their fate and movement with the Romans ready to attack, as having the feeling of being a bunch of children, playing a game in the dark. I love how one of the most poignant moments with Maeve and Sarah, consist of Maeve giving her an acorn, for no real reason. You are on to something here, merging childhood with the gravity of a grown up world. What does this mean to you?

E.C.: When we are children, even if a grownup is willing to play with us, we see him or her as grownup. Period. We believe that one day we will be grown up. We might long for that state or dread it, but most of us don’t guess that when we attain it, we won’t always feel very grown up. Our child self will still be with us, for better or worse, whether we know it or not.

Maeve may be particularly aware of the presence of everyone’s younger self in the scenes on Mona. She was exiled when she was fifteen and has a hard time conceiving of her former classmates as the authority figures they have become. She was never terribly reverent towards authority to begin with, but now she can’t manage it at all. It makes her laugh. There is a sweetness and tenderness in this reunion, too.  


Thank you again, Elizabeth, for such wonderful answers!

Stay tuned for part 3 where we get into the battle scenes and the complex relationship between Maeve and the General, and Jesus might show up in a question or two!



Had to include this wonderful footage of Ms. Cunningham doin' it right! I just love this!

Elizabeth Cunningham is the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of four novels featuring a Celtic Magdalen, including her latest, Red-Robed Priestess. The first three in the series areMagdalen Rising, Passion of Mary Magdalen, and Bright Dark Madonna. 

Elizabeth is the direct descendant of nine generations of Episcopal priests. When she was not in church or school, she read fairytales and fantasy novels or wandered in the enchanted wood of an overgrown, abandoned estate next door to the rectory. Her religious background, the magic of fairytales, and the numinous experience of nature continue to inform her work. Cun­ning­ham also authored many indi­vid­ual books as well, such as The Wild Mother; The Return of the God­dess, a Divine Com­edyHow to Spin Gold, a Woman’s Tale; Small Bird, and Wild Mercy, and a recently released album, MaevenSong.

Although Cunningham managed to avoid becoming an Episcopal priest, she graduated from The New Seminary in 1997 and was ordained as an interfaith minister and counselor. Both The Maeve Chronicles and her interfaith ministry express Cunningham’s profound desire to reconcile her Christian roots with her call to explore the divine feminine.  

Since her ordination, Cunningham has been in private practice as a counselor and maintains that the reading and writing of novels has been has been as important to this work as her seminary training. 

She is also the director of the Center at High Valley where she leads singing and poetry circles as well rituals celebrating the Celtic Cross Quarter Days. The mother of grown children, Cunningham lives with her husband in a sacred grove in New York State’s Hudson Valley.


If you are interested in purchasing any of Elizabeth Cunningham's books, you can contact your local bookseller or support independent booksellers and order online through this link: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780982324691 . 
More links:
Elizabeth and Maeve's blog: http://elizabethandmaeve.blogspot.com/  
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/EliznMaeve 
Friend Maeve Rhuad on Facebook page for play by plays! http://www.facebook.com/people/Maeve-Rhuad/100002343434468
CD of original music from The Maeve Chronicles (Yes, she sings!) http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ecunningham
Dates and locations of the virtual book tour are posted below. 
Elizabeth and Maeve's Virtual Book Tour was kicked off 11/13 with an interview on Creatix Media (Click here to listen if you missed it: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/creatrix-media-live/2011/11/13/maeve-chronicles-series-with-elizabeth-cunningham

Nov 16: Part 1 of interview with Transformational Writers www.transformationalwriters.com
Nov 17: Meredith Gould Interview will post http://meredithgould.blogspot.com
Nov 18: Jane Cunningham http://morethingsithink.blogspot.com
Nov 23: Part 2 of interview with Transformational Writers www.transformationalwriters.com
Dec 2: Part 1 of Jodine Turner Interview www.jodineturner.com
Dec 8: Backdoor to the Moon Interview http://backdoortothemoon.blogspot.com
Dec 9: Part 2 of Jodine Turner Interview (www.jodineturner.com)

Comments

  1. So honored to speak with my soul friend Brooke at Backdoor to the Moon!

    Thank you, Brooke!

    ReplyDelete

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