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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 Danelle during his time in Libya. As well as the local Shaman Rodin, he has dbefriended a group of fishermen from the nearby village. The character of Jeftu is one of the leaders of this group.

"Today you will clean and cut the fish," Jeftu says. I nod my head. We have just returned from our morning trip. He has led me to the place on the shore where the cleaning and cutting is carried out. I am half a man, and Jeftu knows it, yet he refuses to fill in my other half. His tone has become harder because he has decided to help me, and he knows to help me he must fight against what it is I have become.

He hands me an octopus from our catch basket, still warm with life. "Do as I do," he says. He takes a knife and slices along the back of the head, tears around the brain, opening the supple skull, loosening the large piece of flesh. He hands the knife to me. I cut into her soft skin. "Good," Jeftu encourages, "Continue around." I continue, my fingers clumsily pulling the vibrant elastic flesh. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," I whisper to myself. "Forgive me. Forgive me."

"Pull the insides out and throw them there," Jeftu says, pointing to the left. "They are tomorrow's bait."

I do as he says, throwing the warm black and red innards onto the pile, which will grow larger and larger.

"Take the ink sac, put it there," he says, pointing to another pile. "It is dye for our clothing. It is ink for our scribes."

I nod my head and do as he says.

"Give me the head piece," he says. I hand him the piece of flesh I have extracted from the head. "It is flesh," he says, spreading it within his hands. "Food. We shall eat this flesh as food and it will become our flesh, Danelle. Danelle," he repeats, seeing my distraction, "it shall become alive inside of us. It will become our bodies."

"Become our bodies," I repeat to show that I am indeed listening, though it is most difficult for me to remain focused. He and I both know part of me has already stood up and walked away. Together, at the same time, we cut the tentacles apart into eight separate pieces.

"Take what you have cut to the water and rinse it there," he says. "As you rinse it, you give one piece back to Her. You give Her thanks for the gift of food She has made of Herself."

I stand and walk to the water. My legs shake beneath me. I wash the pieces I have cut. My fingers, which are stained with her blood, her life, I rinse, releasing it back into the sea. I tremble, fighting back the pain that wishes to overwhelm me. I throw a piece to the sea. The longest piece of tentacle I offer to Her. "Thank you," I whisper, "for the gift of food."

Jeftu is behind me. He helps me up, allows me to lean on him as he leads me back toward the beach, the warm, embracing sand.

"Now, place it upon the fire," he says.

I walk over to the fire, through others working, others preparing, taking proper care of what they have acquired. I put my offering on the flames. The water pops and sizzles against the heat.

"That is enough for today," Jeftu says, still holding my arm, holding me up. He leads me to a secluded place at the edge of the cove, a place where I can be silent.

"Sit here," he says. "When it is ready, I will bring it to you. You may eat that which you have prepared."

Alone I try not to look at my hands, try to forget the feel, the smell of the knife blade. The sun is good, warming my insides, which slowly relax to its caress, stop shaking. I watch the waves; the wind that follows them blows against me. I am hungry. I shall eat.

Jeftu returns with the cooked flesh. He sits down beside me as I eat. I recognize her in it. I see the live octopus that she was. I consume her, taking her into my mouth one bite at a time.

"She is good, Danelle," Jeftu comments, watching me eat. "She is giving, and what's more, Danelle," he whispers, leaning into me, "She so clearly likes you. Would you turn your back on She who has given life to all?"

* * *

When the Bull came to me, standing there in the path before me one morning as I walked toward the water, I was not afraid. It had not physical density-no smell. I knew from the place where it stood in the path that it was a spirit friend and that it had come to help me.

It puffed long, deep breaths. From its nose, trails of smoke appeared. I followed those trails down to the water. At the water, I washed my face as I had intended to when I first set out. When I finished, I turned around and saw before me the outlines of a village I did not recognize. The longer I looked at it, the more it took shape. It went from first being an empty, uninhabited village to having cultivated fields around it and then, ever so slowly, it became peopled.

Though I am only now aware of them, these people go about their chores as though they have always been here doing what they are doing.

I stand at the edge of the water looking up at them, watching them slowly become the reality surrounding me.

The trail that leads toward the group of clustered buildings that is the village, I follow. People speak to me, call me by name. I respond. I am a member of the community, my consciousness once again blinks back and forth between observing and experiencing.

This village, set on a vast fertile plain edged in by hills, is concerned primarily with the cultivation of crops. I walk by many labored-over fields in which many people work. On my back, over my shoulders, I carry a tree limb from which, on either side, hang two full buckets of fresh water. I am a water bearer. I do not mind the work. I do it willingly and with pleasure.

Through an opening in the back of the clustered buildings, I enter a courtyard where stand a row of large clay urns. That is where I see her. A woman toward whom my insides rush screaming.

She stops speaking to the group of women she is standing with and observes me. I become conscious of my every movement. She approaches me, helps me lift the heavy bucket up to the height of the tall urn, helps me pour the water into it.

"Your shrine awaits you," she says. "It is prepared and ready. It requires only your presence. When will you return?"

I glance up at her, questioning her use of the word, 'return'. I have not yet entered this shrine.

"I need more time," I respond.

Together we reposition the tree limb onto my back.
"You may continue to do this work, keep this chore, if you are afraid to lose what you have."

"That is not it," I say.

"What then?"

"There are no words for that which keeps me from Her."

* * *

Dreamtime and waking were confused. Though I searched, I could not find Danelle, the man that I was. I was no longer sure of anything. So it was that I began to search for beauty. I knew that recognizing beauty would save me. My mother had taught me this.

Each morning for the entire moon preceding my initiation, she woke me and took me to the place where land meets water. In this place of elements meeting, she asked me to notice five things of beauty. Each day those five things had to be different.

"The only thing required of you to fulfill your purpose as a human being," Hypia said, "is to notice the beauty. Only to drink in the beauty. This is the purpose of human life."

"Mother," I said, "I see the light upon that leaf. I see a clump of red berries hanging ready. I hear the fluttering wings of a small, swift bird. I feel the warm sand beneath my feet. The sun has warmed the sand and the sand warms me. The sky is blue and cloudless. These things that I see are things of beauty."

She looked at me and nodded her head. The look contained concern. She knew the men were coming for me. She wanted me to be ready.

"The world is not out there, Danelle," she said, pointing to the horizon and moving her extended arm in a long, sweeping arc. "It is in here." She placed her hands open upon my chest; large and warm and safe. "When you are in distress, when things are difficult, search for beauty and retreat to the world within."

Being a boy in Minoa was wonderful, but when the priests of Male Being came to take me, I was ready. I had begun to perceive a difference, a difference that could only be explored and expressed apart, apart from the women and girls of my block.

When the men came to take me, though I wanted them to come, though I felt the need for air, I was scared. They took me deep into the forest. "Son of Hypia," they called me, "Your mother can no longer feed you," they chanted. "Son of Hypia. You must learn to feed yourself."

They left me alone. For days, In the forest, I foraged. I wandered, coming to know the trees and the earth. Days passed and I found myself in need of meat. I began to hunt. The hunting led me straight to their traps. Chasing a rabbit, I fell into a hole they had made and covered with many long grasses. I could not lift myself out. I was tired and hungry, cold and scared. I moaned as my stomach curled over itself. I called out. I called out for mother.

And She came. She said nothing, wrapped Her dense, green arms around me, lifted me out of the enclosure and led me by the hand to a stream of water moving with many fish.

I drank the water. I caught and cooked the fish. I fed myself and felt it growing-mother in me.

Sometimes, I only need to look at a person to find myself later carving them a stone. Something there is that overtakes me, guides my hand over the stone in smooth, gliding movements. It is not often that I know what it is I am carving before it is completed. Lengths of time go by unnoticed. Often my workshop becomes enveloped in darkness when it seems morning has only just begun.

Until I handed the first few people stones designed with them in mind, I did not understand. Until I saw within them recognition, I could not make sense of it. Still I did not know how I had accomplished it.

When I was asked to carve Her in tree spirit form, a large image of Her to be placee in a court, I ambled around searching, trying. Always working with others and in the form of miniature, I had nothing to grasp onto. The usual methods would not work.

I began to pray for guidance. I prayed to Her. Again She came to me and helped me. It was then I understood that it had always been Her: Her hand guiding mine. Her hand within me-deep and dark and mossy. It was Her working through me, me expressing Her.

When I heard Aureillia's prophecies, when I heard what would be done to Her, what man was capable of, when I understood what I would become-that is when it started; a blushing within, a shame so deep it reached into my feet.

Of course I had carved the stone for Tolles before his request. Indeed it had begun to happen that way more than the other way around. Naturally it was amethyst. There was no better way to describe Barbara than with purple. But I had not given him the stone. I had taken it with me when I sailed away from Minoa. Here, in Libya, I carried it around with me. I looked down at it now, sitting within my hand and noticed, as if for the first time, that it was the image of a bird, a bird in flight.

I knew that I must return to Minoa. I must hand my father this stone.

I stood up, my feet deep within the sand, the front of my body receiving the heat from the sun. I looked into the waves coming toward me from Crete.

"Mother," I said. I said it out loud, "I see it now. Even in pain is there beauty."

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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