I’ve had this incredibly long book sitting on a shelf for more years than I can remember. I think I may have picked it up to read once and maybe got to page five, but I’m not even certain about that.
I intend to read it. It’s on “the list.” Some day. Les Miserables is also on said list with similar results (they’re even the same color!).
Imagine, then, my delight when NetFlix suggested The Mists of Avalon as a movie I might like — especially since I didn’t know it existed in movie (made-for-TV though it was) form. I could at least get an idea of the book and push it a little further down “the list.” The movie, too, sat in my queue for much longer than I intended, but I have hundreds of movies and television series and you name it’s that I’m trying to watch before I die and there are only so many hours in a lifetime.
Finally, though, I but the bullet and got the movie a couple weeks ago and watched it last Sunday. All three hours of it. As of this writing (two days after watching the movie), I’m still processing.
There are movies and books that stick with me for months after the experience. They take root in my brain, planting seeds of ideas and encouraging deep thoughts or a yearning to return to the world of which they showed me such a small, enticing glimpse.
I don’t know yet if Avalon had such an effect.
A quick synopsis for those who aren’t familiar: The Mists of Avalon is the King Arthur stories (some of them, anyway) told from the perspective of his half sister, Morgana Le Fay. It focuses mainly on the women in the story and begins with Morgana (Morgain in the movie — her name varies in each tale, depending on who tells it) claiming that all the King Arthur tales told before are lies. It shows Morgana as a heroine and champion of her brother rather than the traditional stories of Morgana as his enemy. The Lady of the Lake is their aunt and a real person presiding over the fabled Avalon, where King Arthur is supposed to have gone in place of death, awaiting the day when he can return to power over England (the Once and Future King).
The battle in Avalon is between The Lady and a third sister (not Arthur and Morgain’s mother) over control of Camelot and Avalon. Queen Guinevere is a much less noble character in this version, flawed and jealous, but in a very sympathetic way.
That is the general story.
What lies beneath is the evolution of the British Isles from paganism to Christianity. It chronicles the Christians’ acceptance of the “old religion” as Christianity slowly swallows up pagan traditions until those traditions lose their pagan roots and appear to be the sole property of the stronger religion.
Avalon disappears into the ether along with worship of The Goddess, explained in the movie as the yin to Father God of Christianity’s yang. The very end of the movie, however, shows The Goddess living on in worship of the Virgin Mary in Christianity and this gives Morgain hope that the old religion will one day return, as she so longs for it to do.
This is not a new or original concept. I think it was in an art history class, studying Gothic architecture and specifically Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral (notre dame translates to “our lady”) that I first heard of The Cult of the Virgin. Early Christian leaders realized it was easier to draw pagans into the new religion than it was to conquer them. Being that paganism is the worship of a Mother Earth-type figure, a goddess, Christian leaders elevated Christ’s mother to a status she did not earlier occupy in order to make the transition easier on the new converts. Mary gave the pagans a goddess to worship, but one approved by Christians, which led to the pagans’ full acceptance of the new religion. This probably happened slowly over generations more than all at once, but it worked.
The movie didn’t go into much detail about Mary. This idea is an afterthought. I don’t know about the book. I guess I’ll have to read it.
Regardless, the concept of Mary as an embodiment of the goddess of paganism often brings joy to my heart. My spiritual beliefs are a mishmash of ideas, many of them at odds with each other. I don’t pretend to know any answers. I won’t say one religion is right and another wrong. I don’t know enough to make that judgment. More often than not, I’m not sure what I believe. I’ve considered embracing Judaism or Catholicism at different points in my life, being the religions of my parents and what I’m most familiar with. I’ve attended Protestant and Unitarian churches and they most definitely do not move me the way Judaism and Catholicism do.
But I cannot accept the entire doctrine of either faith. And I feel strongly that Eastern religions have a lot to offer. I’ve attended a meditation seminar at the local Buddhist community, I practice yoga and I read Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve found much to embrace in those practices, but also much to reject and again, I’m at odds with my own thoughts.
One thing I’m certain of, though, is that the greater universe and everything beyond is a larger model of life on Earth. That means, to me, that there is no masculine without the feminine and vice versa. A god and a goddess. A woman cannot create life without a man and a man cannot create life without a woman. Even cloned animals have proven to be highly flawed. I’m all about logic and sense and that is what makes sense to me.
And because of that, I found much wisdom in the Avalon movie. What I’m unsure of is the motivation and honesty of it. That will take more pondering on my part. Maybe I’ll pull the book off the shelf in the next few weeks, if I ever finish the book I’m currently reading. It’s far more grounded. It’s time for something mystical.