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Dea ex machina
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Grace was stumped and staring blankly at the computer screen.
She has an idea, an outline of a new short story. But she stalled when she needed to name a character.
“You can’t call a demon Fred . . . unless you are married to him,” she mused, reflecting on her own failed vows.
Fantasy really wasn’t Grace’s strong suite, but she needed money, and there were many publishing outlets in the genre.
“Heck, if I do well, Harry Potter lightning may strike,” she thought, quickly speculating on how she would spend the money from such a windfall. But then she forced herself to concentrate on her current problem. She just could not come up with creative names and characteristics of the gods, demons, heroes and wizards who populated her tales.
“All the good ones are taken,” she muttered. “Beelzebub, Ishtar, maybe even Siri, the goddess of the Apple Macintosh. I need something stunning and not a repetition of the Bible, archaeology or brain-sucking online games.”
In fact, Grace had consulted the ever-faithful internet to find list after list of demons, gods and other semi-historical figures. And she was overwhelmed. She let her hand roam through one promising list and clicked on the name Asherah. She liked the sound as the word rolled off her lips. “Sort of like Amun-Ra from the History Channel,” she thought.
“Asherah, Asherah, Asherah,” she repeated, taking pleasure as the word flowed. But she never heard of this ancient deity.
“Asherah, who the heck are you, and how do I integrate you into my story,” Grace mumbled under her breath.
“That’s because I have been cut systematically out of history,” a voice replied.
Grace bolted erect in her chair. She turned to see a thin, middle-aged woman sitting on the nearby sofa.
“Who are you and how did you get into my apartment,” Grace shouted.
“You invoked me,” the smiling woman replied. “‘Asherah, Asherah, Asherah.’ Remember sweetie? It’s been a long time since someone did that.”
Grace stared at the woman. She looked about 50, wearing what looked like a pale blue business suit. Her legs were crossed delicately at the ankles.
“I wasn’t invoking anyone. And how did you get in here anyway,” Grace snapped.
“We ancient gods have our ways, but even if you didn’t know you were calling me, I am glad to have escaped my dusty confines.”
“And how come you can speak English, if you really are an ancient god?” Grace said. The woman replied:
“Look, sweetie, I have been paying attention to humankind before the first farmer planted that first grain of barley. And I used to get a lot more respect than I’m getting now. What have you got to eat?”
“There are a couple of Pop Tarts in the refrigerator,” Grace responded automatically.
“As to language,” the woman continued, “I speak about everything, and I have had plenty of time to learn, although lately I have been a bit short of conversational partners. But I do much prefer a more melodic and graceful language like Akkadian or even Aramaic. Did you know I inspired Pop Tarts, even though no one at the Kellogg Company knows it. I was just bored one day and a little hungry.”
The woman moved to the kitchen and started pawing through the refrigerator. “I see you got beer. I inspired that, too,” the woman said. “But that was a long, long time ago.”
So just who the heck are you,” Grace asked. “I just Googled you, and it says you are some kind of mother goddess, and when I wake up from this dream, I’ll want to be able to describe you better.”
“Sweetie, I am The Mother Goddess with the emphasis on the word the,” Asherah replied. “And the reason you never heard of me is because the patriarchal rabbis wrote me out of the Hebrew Bible 2,500 years ago. I am Yahweh’s wife. You’ve heard of him, right? God, Jehovah, the all-powerful creator of the universe. You have no idea the number of his messes I have had to clean up.
“But he basically told me to shut up and go with the flow after these monotheistic religions began attracting large numbers of faithful. Just like I was telling Lilith the other day, behind every great god there is a woman. And mine likes to be worshipped.”
“Who's Lilith,” Grace asked.
“Don’t you pay attention to anything. She’s Adam’s first wife, but you won’t see that in the Bible either. She’s kind of a lesser demon now, but like me, she has very little to do because she has been written out of history. You would’t like her. She’s not very nice to mortals, which is probably why Adam took up with Eve. My husband is credited with creating Eve as Adam’s companion because Lilith was such a shrew. But he didn’t use one of Adam’s ribs, no matter what the men tell you. And all this really is human-created mythology. Among other things, Lilith had many, many boyfriends back then.
“And that is the main reason I am here. To try to put some balance back in this crazy modern life that has spiraled out of order. The place is on the edge of what as Dr. Peter Venkman says in ‘Ghostbusters’: 'Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!'”
“You watch movies?” said Grace.
“Mostly only fantasies and some religious satires like ‘Dogma’ and some of the Monty Python offerings. They sure put the knife into all this mythical haze you people surround yourself with.”
“Now, let’s get to work. And let’s start with the Ten Commandments and that ‘have no other gods before me’ nonsense. That started all that male dominance business, and all the rabbis were trying to do was create a monopoly on religion.
“You know in the old days, if you went into a home in Sumer, Babylon or Ur or even Judah, say 3,000 years ago, you would have found statues of my husband and me standing proudly side by side. The job of keeping an eye on you people surely is big enough for two gods. And this shift to an all-powerful male deity has only generated unexpected consequences, nearly all bad.”
Grace could not generate any meaningful responses and simply started to stammer “I really have to wake up.”
“You don’t look like a crusader to me, but you can take a step to spread a little truth. After I go, just sit down and work what I told you into a short story that someone, somewhere might publish and begin humankind on the trail of dumping this monotheistic claptrap. That’s a start, and I’ll be back.”
And then Grace sensed that she woke up still at her computer surrounded by the lingering scent of toasted Pop Tarts.
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