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Excerpt from Stories They Told Me

book cover art -- a shape-shifting woman with wings on a rocky beach
cover art by Suzanne deVeuve.
All rights reserved.

Stories They Told Me by Theresa C. Dintino is a novel of shamanism and Goddess Spirituality set in the Bronze Age world of Minoan Crete. It is a threefold tale exploring violence against women from the perspectives of characters who live in a world where such violence is unknown.

Early in the novel Aureillia and Danelle travel to Malta. There, in an underground temple, they witness a shared vision of Danelle murdering Aureillia in a future life. This knowing sends them onto individual journeys of discovery.

Danelle, artist and oracle, flees to Libya where he meets the local Shaman Rodin. Together they examine the heart breaking questions of his soul.

Aureillia, Priestess of the Bird, returns to Crete where a prophecy she told long ago resonates in ways unexpected.

Throughout the book there is a third voice telling stories, all different stories with different narrators. It is unclear to the reader until the end who is speaking, but Danelle and Aureillia's daughter Lilith is listening, being filled up by story.

The following excerpt is from the point of view of Aureillia in Crete and her encounter once again with the Bird Goddess-Lilith.

capital "M" in site font in place of the letter My mother's return was just the medicine I needed. We had been notified that she was to return. So it was that Hypia, Lilith, Thela, Thela's children, and I awaited her ship at the marina.

She descended the boat with a broad smile and was tossed into a flurry of embraces. Together we walked to her block and sat around the central court sharing stories of her journey and events that had transpired in Minoa during her time away. Upon hearing of Danelle's absence, she looked at me and made as if to ask a question, but could no sooner form the words in her mind before someone interrupted with another tale to tell.

The concern in her face revealed to me a place within myself that was vulnerable and in desperate need of mothering. It was clear I would not be able to pretend to her. The brave face I had been putting on for everyone else would surely collapse before my mother. I felt a crumbling within already as I backed out of the conversation and became silent.

Lilith cuddled into her lap and touched her long black and white curls, which had acquired much more white in her absence. Her skin, however, remained dark and supple, reflecting vibrantly the deep purple hue of her dress. Observing her, I saw Thela and Leida in her face-but not myself. After Lilith had been asleep in her arms for some time, Sheena stood and carried her into her room.

I followed behind her. After nestling Lilith into a space in her own bed, she turned to me. In the darkness I allowed her to hold me.

"My darling, Aureillia. How do you endure?" was all that she said, but it was enough-enough to open the space through which the hot tears could emerge, wetting the cloth of the front of the dress, enough for the deep sobs of the infant to arise from within me, enough for my mother to wrap her embracing arms around me and tell me, once again, that everything would be all right. "Aureillia," she asked. "Do you know anything about an upside-down serpent?"

"Upside-down serpent?" I repeated. "No."

"I only just remembered. Before I left Thera, I visited the oracle. She sent with me two messages for you. The first, the one I cannot make sense of and hope that you can, is that she said to tell you that it concerns upside-down serpent." Sheena shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "The second part I do understand. You must return to the cove of your retreat. Someone awaits you there."

"I shall go at once."

Early the next morning, together with Lilith, I set out. We walked for three days and three nights. The whole time we walked, I told her stories. I did not tell her we were going to see Lilith of the Cave. I told her we were returning to the place where she had been born.

The Winged Goddess of Creation
Once, there was a dark, winged Goddess who came when people needed Her. She could take all their pain into Her being. She could absorb difficulty and trouble and transform it into something other-something useful. When one called out in hurt, it was the winged Goddess who hearkened, wrapping the sufferer in Her warm, sheltering feathers, embracing the anger, containing the rage. If one howled with the agony of despair, others knew Lilith was with her. They awaited patiently the return of their friend from the time of suffering.

The moment we arrived, I knew, as I stood in the entryway to the cove looking down on the secluded beach below. I knew, with this view, this safe lookout in which I could make my nest. I knew my temple of the Bird must be here. I did not know how I would do it or when, but I did know that birds do not live inside. I now understood that matters of the Bird Goddess require an understanding of the vastness.

Lilith and I set about to the task of collecting firewood and food before the light left us. That night, as we sat within the cave watching the moon raise her white presence into the night sky, she came, her immense wings fluttering as a ship's sail against the wind.

"Mother, what is that?" Lilith asked.

"It is Lilith of the Cave," I said. "Bird Goddess. She comes, once again, to help me. I brought you here so that you could meet her."

Lilith of the Cave flew to the entryway and stood, wings spread before us.

Long, thick, black hair. Strong, dark eyebrows. Bright green eyes. Beaked nose above a small pink mouth. Skin of copper-red.

Though I had experienced her before, her power was no less-there was no diminishment with familiarity. Her presence permeated the entire cave, filling my being with awe. I stood humbled by my own humanness before her.

capital "M" in site font in place of the letter My daughter clung to my leg, her nails biting in. I lifted her in my arms.

"Goddess of the Bird," I said, bowing to Her in sacred gesture. "I am deeply honored to be, once again, in your presence."

"Aureillia, though the path is difficult, you walk it with grace."

We sat together within the cave, around the fire, as before. As we spoke, Lilith the younger circled around Lilith of the Cave, examining her, touching her feathered wings, her hardened beak and clawed feet. Lilith of the Cave withstood it with great patience, speaking no words, only allowing.
"Is it true," Lilith the younger asked her, "that you kill babies and suck the blood of men?"

Lilith of the Cave closed and opened her green eyes with intention. "I would never harm a child," she replied. "It is my job to protect them. This I do often and I do it well. I have never tasted the blood of men, and I do not wish to, nor do I harbor any ill feelings toward men. They are but more of my children whom I work to protect. These things that you have heard are only stories."

"Why do they tell stories that are not true? I have heard them. The dolphins have told me many things."

"The dolphins only repeat what they have heard. The people who told them-it is they who understand the power of stories. These are strong stories indeed. Of course you believed them. You are a child, and you have great faith in the world and all the creatures in it. This is as it should be."

She took Lilith the younger onto her lap. "Do you think your mother would name you after someone who did such things?"

Lilith looked up into her beaked face and shook her head, no.

"You are right. She would not. You are too young to understand discrimination, but as you know your mother would not give you a name unless she thought it was a blessed gift, then you must know that something is not right with these stories."

"I thought my mother did not know," Lilith said, cupping her hands in front of her mouth and whispering. "I thought it was a secret."

"You must not have secrets from your mother. Your mother is the one who cares for you and protects you. Secrets between a mother and a daughter leave the door open to harm. You must not leave that door open, Lilith. You must shut it tight behind you.

"There are so many stories. It is difficult to know what to believe. That is why you must take care about what you allow yourself to hear. And you must learn, when you become a woman, to know what it is that you believe to be true and trust in that, no matter what others tell you."

Lilith's eyes were wide with wonder as she listened to Lilith of the Cave's words with intensity and focus. I imagined she had listened to the stories the dolphins told her in a similar way, taking them into her core, letting them become her in a way only a child can. But here, instead of being made worried by them, I saw her body relax back into itself in relief. Lilith of the Cave began to hum a melody, repeating it over and over. Soon Lilith was asleep within her arms.

She carried her to the nest of leaves I had made on one side of the fire and wrapped a blanket around her. Then she assumed her place again across the fire from me.

"Lilith," I said, "In trying to fulfill my duty I have caused great pain to my community. What shall I do to mend this rift that seems to be growing?"

"It is the story," she replied, her green eyes upon me. "The way you told the story. The prophecy offered no other way. They cannot let go of an absolute."

"But there is no other way," I said. "That is the prophecy."

"Aureillia, there is always another way. You must tell them a different story. Remember," she chanted, "you can change Her name, Her form, you can reject, ignore, and even deny Her-but you can never truly kill Her. The Goddess is life itself."

She rose and approached Lilith the younger. She raised her wings above her, whispering soft prayers over her. Then she plucked feathers from herself to form a circle around the sleeping child. "This is a circle of protection," she said. "Place it around her each night you are here to close the door upon that which has been allowed to enter her. Watch over her, Aureillia. She is your daughter. Women like you need protection."

She stood to leave. "Aureillia, don't ever forget that you can change a story. When you know this-truly know this inside of you-you will find your way."

From Stories They Told Me, Copyright 2003 by Theresa C. Dintino. Submitted by the author for publication in MatriFocus. All rights reserved.

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