Thursday, February 27, 2014
Second Story of the Awesome Margery Kempe
Not all English Catholic authorities accepted Ms. Kempe as a holy woman expressing her conventional Catholicism in loud and incessant pronouncements to all the public. Many thought she was a Lollard and thought she was possessed by the devil. She and her husband John took vows of celibacy. In an effort to prove her godliness she met with church officials who were convinced she was a holy person. She took to public displays of her godliness by long diatribes reproving sinners, explaining the words in the scriptures and by being extravagantly pious.
John Kempe gave her permission to travel to the Holy Land after she paid his bills. She wished to dress in white; this wasn’t allowed by church authority; she dressed in gray. So she set out with other highly-sought-after pilgrims. She hired a maid to accompany her. She makes no mention in her autobiography of her 14 children.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
China Power-Hungry Empress
The dowager Cixi (Tsoo-Shee) never ruled in China but she had great power at the end of the 19th century. She was a lesser concubine of the Emperor Xianfeng and gained stature as the mother of his first son. In 1861 the emperor died; her son was 5 years old and Cixi became one of the regents for the young emperor.
Her power was ruthless; she declared her enemies traitors. Another regent, Su Shun was beheaded in the public market. The Taiping Rebellion in 1864 was crushed with 100,000 rebels slain.
In 1873 Cixi’s son turned 17 and she was no longer regent. The young emperor died 2 years later. One of his wives was pregnant but died. Cixi adopted her nephew, 4 years old, and again ruled as his regent.
In 1889 she retired again. Her nephew wanted reforms, but in 1898 army officers forced him to give up power. They named Cixi regent again. Europeans made the Chinese sign a treaty giving up many rights. Many people blamed her for Europeans (and the Americans) invading China. The ruling family fled and the Cixi forces were powerless.
Cixi died in 1908 after she named a new emperor to the throne. He was the last emperor of China; he ruled only until 1912.
The only other woman in this reference book of “Merciless Monarchs and Ruthless Royalty” by Miriam Aronin, 2013, (p. 24-27) is Bloody Mary who reigned from 1553 to 1558 in England. She restored Catholicism, burned at the stake about 300 Protestants and was succeeded by Elizabeth I.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Misogyny and the Churches
“The Subversion of Women as Practiced by Churches, Witch-hunters, and other Sexists” by Nancy van Vuuren, 1973, tells the story of misogamy from the beginning of Christian power and continuing in Catholic Reformation periods. She continues the story in witchcraft and discussion of marriage laws and practices. Non-Catholic religious groups have been late in providing women with ministerial possibilities.
It is a very sad story, and also are the traits which women have developed to survive in this climate. They include withdrawal and passivity, self-hate, sympathy with all victims, slyness and cunning, aggression and revolt, obsessive concern and suspicion. (p. 25-26). The misogynists have used these coping mechanisms to further oppress. The author writes that woman “can only be a slave or a despot – never a companion.” Only two types of women are praised in the church. The first are nuns who have to be silent because they are cloistered. The second are the women who produce numerous children.
She includes the full text of Pope Innocent VIII’s full bull appointing as inquisitors from which there is no escape from Henry Kramer and James Sprenger in December 9, 1484. This statement permitted the more than 300 years of church approved terror. Women are signaled out for witchcraft because they are “feebler in both mind and body;” they are insatiably carnal, and more ready to be impressed by the devil. On these qualities thousands and thousands of the accused women died.
She equates most marriages with prostitution. She finds very few couples are truly equal, which she feels is a requirement for marriage.
This book was published when the fight for ERA was still unknown; ratification of ERA was needed as a boon for equality. Other goals for society must include equal pay, women should be 50% of appointments at all government levels, 50% of political candidates for all elected offices.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
Margery Brunham, or Burnham, was born about 1373 and died 65 years later – a very old age in those days. She was born in Bishop’s Lynn in Norfolk. She dictated her memoirs to a scribe, as she could neither read nor write. She died in Rome in 1438. She is the earliest woman to author an autobiography in English. She had a remarkable memory and remembered many incidents, complete with dialog.
However, she was guilt ridden, and never mentioned her sin nor could she seek absolution because she was unable to confess her crime. Her shameful secret is never revealed. She did tell to all who would listen, her life’s history, and she was eager to reprimand all people who did not conform to her standards. Her book was discovered in 1934 in a country house in Yorkshire. My copy is titled Memoirs of a Medieval Woman - The Life and Times of Margery Kempe by Louise Collis. I do not know how many were copied from the original scribe. There were no printing presses, copies had to be copied.
At the age of 20 or so, Margery, daughter of the mayor, married John Kempe and had 14 children. After the first baby, a difficult birth, she consulted Dame Julian, the most famous mystic and author of Revelations. Dame Julian and the Bishop of Norwich agreed that Margery had mystical knowledge, but not all people agreed.
By 1413 John and Margery agreed that she was under God’s protection. They made pilgrimages to English shrines and cathedrals. She talked to many people about her life and visions. Then she decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. That will make another story.
Another source of information was International Dictionary of Women’s Biography and The Norton Anthology of Literature By Women.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
The Very, Very First Woman
Our very earliest ancestor, prehistoric woman was a person probably of great charm, intelligence, ingenuity. She was neither chattel nor slave then, but rather an inventor, with other women of the possibilities of bending straw to make baskets, discovery of the cohesive quality of clay, researcher of healthful aspects of certain herbs, and, of course the bearer of children. She, as well as males, learned to harvest grains after they planted seeds, and they kept part of the harvest for winter. She lived at peace with environment, realizing that earth, fire, water and air could sustain or destroy her. This is the portrait obtained from the insightful scholarship of Elaine Morgan, who, in The Descent of Woman, 1972, noted fallacies in the generally unquestioned wisdom of masculinists.
So, far from being the despised outcasts of Jean Auel’s novels, it is much more likely that our female ancestors bonded for support and companionship, admitting males on their own terms. The adventures of these original achievers should be portrayed be creative authors.
Centuries later, when people moved into caves, our ancestor must have been an art patron who permitted her portrait as the bearer of children and the source of fertility to be painted on walls of the caves. Her deification as the Great Goddess followed.
Marilyn French continues the saga in Beyond Power, 1985, with men turning to wars for territory control, the subsequent slavery of the women of the defeated group, and their males of the winners to install male gods. However, underground movements kept Isis alive well into the Roman era. Germanic tribes continued the worship of women until replacement by Christian saints. Jean Markale, in Women of the Celts, 1975, identifies the original strong position of women, honored in saga, song and folktale.
Today’s struggles for peace, economic equity, political representation and justice for all have roots in antiquity. While unsuccessful in the past, our glorious history can sustain actions and encourage faith in ultimate success. Women’s Studies programs provide a great service as they explore the past, examine the present and create blueprints for the future.