REVIEW: The Temple of the Subway Goddess
The Temple of the Subway Goddess, a novel by Carolyn Lee Boyd (Lulu 2008) trade paperback.
Located somewhere between what we usually call fantasy and what is commonly called reality, The Temple of the Subway Goddess is an adventurous, imaginative novel written by Carolyn Lee Boyd with a loving ear for language.
The chapters are unnumbered, but each has a title. The 1st chapter "An Invitation," can be considered an extended and modernized "Dear Reader" statement, inviting us to imagine that it is 7000 years BP (before present) and we are sitting "in a circle in a round sanctuary" taking part in a Goddess ritual in which people tell their stories. The rest of the novel contains the interwoven stories of Mira, a priestess initiate from 7000 BP and Suzanne, living in a present-day unnamed American city. In the second chapter, "At the Gates" we learn about the ancient Temple of Women; we meet Suzanne, living now with her husband, Sam, in the 21st century in the rather unconventional Pickmont Park section of the city; and we meet Mira, a woman whose initiation as a priestess in the ancient Temple of Women occurs during an earthquake. The other priestesses leave the Temple to save their lives but don’t disturb entranced Mira because they believe it is improper to interrupt an initiate in mid-trance. The earthquake seals the Temple shut and Mira remains "with her Goddess," somewhere between life and death, until an archeologist unearths the Temple remains in the 21st Century. Mira then enters the Present at Pickmont Park, at first lacking a physical body, and becomes acquainted with Suzanne during a hurricane.
In the following chapters, Mira develops a physical body. She sometimes merges with Suzanne and is sometimes embodied on her own. Mira teaches Suzanne about life in Ancient Times, and Suzanne teaches Mira about life in the 21st Century. As she turns 40, Suzanne resumes her interest in photography, which she had abandoned when she was 30. She develops unusual powers after "melding" with Mira at a zoo and becomes famous because of them. Mira’s influence changes Suzanne’s view of herself, the city she lives in, and her relationship with her husband, an astrophysicist who discovers something unusual astrophysically-speaking about Pickmont Park. But there comes a point when Suzanne must decide whether she will allow Mira and other spiritual entities to entirely take over her being or whether she will assert her individuality.
To me, the novel can be read and understood on at least two levels, the spiritual and the psychological. For instance, I can see Mira as an imaginary figure that emerges when Suzanne is scared during the hurricane. Or I can understand her as an actual ancient spirit, similar to the "ghost" in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
The thematic tension between "magic" and "reality," as well as thematic material about what constitutes fully-developed spirituality, is highlighted in a fantasy-filled parade that culminates in the need to rush one of the participants, a terminal cancer patient, to the hospital. The patient, leader of a chorus Suzanne belongs to, makes an unusual request of the chorus members. Suzanne leads in responding to this request, which presents another spiritual challenge – one that has surprising results.
This is a finely crafted novel. Each chapter begins with a teaching or "lesson" from the ancient Temple, which lead up to, in what could be called a circular manner, a final lesson about the destruction of the Temple. One of my favorite "lessons" begins an earlier chapter titled "Snakes and Elixers." Boyd writes:
Many priestesses-to-be who entered the Temple of Women desired the magical power to remake the world to their liking more than anything else the Temple could offer them. Therefore, for their first lesson, the Chief Priestess would gather them into the circle to teach them the secrets of enchantment and conjuring.I’m not going to reveal the way the Chief Priestess teaches them these "secrets," but only say that as far as I’m concerned, her method and message was perfect.
The Temple of the Subway Goddess is a beautifully written novel that can be a gentle, yet intriguing introduction to some aspects of Goddess thought for those just beginning on this path. I believe it will also be warmly welcomed as an inspiring read by those who have been close to Goddess for some time.