Morgan Grey and Julia Penelope, Found Goddesses

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Morgan Grey and Julia Penelope, Found Goddesses.

Illustrated by Alison Bechdel.

Norwich, VT: New Victoria Publishers, A Feminist and Literary Cultural Organization, 1988.

First edition, [iv] 122 [ii] pp. Paperback, signed by both authors “For Jane,” on the title page, binding printed in purple and turquoise on covers featuring an illustration by Alison Bechdel in the style of her famous Dykes to Watch Out For, and including fourteen other illustrations by Bechdel throughout. A few stains on foreedge but otherwise in good condition.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Julia Penelope (1941-2013) was a feminist linguist and philosopher whose writing was often shaped by her experiences of discrimination for being an out lesbian within academia. For instance, with Morgan Grey she was a founding member of the “Lincoln Legion of Lesbians” while working at the University of Nebraska, during which time she also taught women’s history classes and brought lesbian poets such as Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich to speak to students. Penelope wrote more seriously about lesbian politics, for instance in 1988 with Sara Lucia Hoagland, For Lesbians Only: A Separatist Anthology. On the other hand, Found Goddesses was composed with her fellow “radical dyke” Grey, and offers a much more humorous—yet no less comprehensive—look into the world of lesbian life, love, and consciousness raising. Grey herself has favored creative writing, working on the journal Sinister Wisdom and contributing stories—for instance—to Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry (2016). 

Their blend of politics and style is perfect for this A to Z pantheon of lesbian deities that is at once humorous and earnest—they confess both to praying to the goddess Moola-Moola for money, but don’t hold back on the biting capitalist critique. The same goes for Anomia, the goddess of “Closet Lesbians” whose “shrine” is “the closet” and for whom ritual worship entails remaining anonymous and retreating to suburbia: “Many devotees of Anomia are known as Yuppies to their detractors.”  

None from the pantheon is goddesses listed is as enduringly relevant as Laborea, “the three-fold, and very busy, goddess of shitwork”: “a major Dyke goddess” whose sacred symbol is a broomstick and who is worshipped in particular by the Kitchen Witch. One of Laborea’s three forms—of particular interest to anyone interested in printing history—is “Collatea,” whose aid is invoked:

…for the performance of all of those unexciting, even unpleasant tasks that seem to be a necessary part of the operation of every wimmin’s organization. Particularly sacred to Collatea is the preparation of newsletters and flyers announcing concerts and asking for money, and Her adherents usually gather at least once a month to celebrate Her rituals, circling a table once for each name on a mailing list and performing the sacred tasks of the Stapling, the Folding, the Addressing, and most importantly, the Sorting. Most blessed by Collatea are those who do the Typing and the Mailing, without which there would be no Newsletter in the Mailbox. (69-70)

Penelope’s deep knowledge of feminist philosophy and linguistic analysis (particularly of the ways in which patriarchal hierarchy is inscribed into language itself) is worn lightly and described accessibly, no doubt thanks to her collaboration with Grey, and their general involvement in the world of lesbian activism in Lincoln, Nebraska. Their combination of goddess worship—particularly as it emerged from within the Women’s Liberation movement—and good humor makes for a wonderful insight into day to day life. The book is made all the more enjoyable by its occasional illustrations by Alison Bechdel. 

Bechdel, the award-winning graphic novelist behind Fun Home and Are You My Mother, was at the time prolifically illustrating lesbian life in her own right with her cartoon strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Found Goddesses complements that work perfectly for any fans of the series—its insight into the epic scale of lesbian-feminist politics as balanced by a great sense of humor and playfulness toward the struggles of everyday life really have not been paralleled since. Maybe most importantly of all, it gives you the sense that in order to live a life deeply connected with a sense of the divine, you don’t have to keep from laughing and having fun—Hillaria forbids it—and that too is a powerful alternative to the ways of male-oriented religions, and the general havoc they have wrought upon the earth.

FURTHER READING

 Alison Bechdel, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009).

Brooke Palmieri