What Is Women’s Visionary Fiction? (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series)
Women’s Visionary Fiction is not a new type of Visionary Fiction. It has been around for decades if not centuries. In fact, for all of recorded history (and thousands of years before writing existed) women have been associated with visions, mystical experiences, spiritual powers, magic, the ability to bring new life into the world, heal the sick, and speak to the dead.
When women authors finally cracked the Paper Ceiling of Publishing in the early 1970’s, they began to draw on their visionary heritage as they struggled for cultural recognition and spiritual identity.
The best of Women’s Visionary Fiction is not preachy or didactic. Mystical, flowing, beautifully crafted, it draws on folk traditions and esoteric sources as it creates new worlds, explores the after-life, and evokes other states of consciousness and other realities. Yet many of the early examples, fine they are, still remain unknown except to a small audience of readers.
For example, in 1940, Native American author Ella Deloria wrote Waterlily, a visionary novel that takes as its subject Lakota (Sioux) culture before the Lakota had contact with Europeans. This fascinating recreation of Lakota rituals, culture, and spiritual life, was not published until 1988, nearly twenty years after Deloria’s death.
In the past half century, women have written visionary fiction about witches, midwives, herbal healers, priestesses, goddesses, fairies, oracles, and angels. In fact, sometimes the authors themselves have been witches, midwives, herbal healers, and priestesses. Take for example Starhawk, San Francisco’s most famous witch. Her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing (Bantam, 1993), is a post-apocalyptic vision of the San Francisco Bay Area as a newly created ecological paradise governed by a council of elderly women who are guided by their dreams.
Usually, as in The Fifth Sacred Thing, Women’s Visionary Fiction takes as its subject the path of peace rather than the path of war. But this is not universally true. Maxine Hong Kingston’s visionary autobiography The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (Knopf, 1976), not only redefines what it means to be a Chinese American woman; it blends folk-tales, legends, and visions to create a fierce woman warrior with magical powers.
Since the 1990’s the growth of the Women’s Spirituality Movement has inspired women to write visionary fiction about the Earth as a living Goddess. Sometimes known as the Gaia Hypothesis, this idea that the Earth is not real estate to be developed, but a living being to be cared for is slowly making its way into popular culture.
Three of my novels, The Year the Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring, take the living Earth as their subject. Written for a popular audience, they recreate the religious rituals, visions, poetry, and mystical bonds between the Earth and the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Neolithic Europe.
My new novel The Village of Bones, which will be published in early 2016, continues my visionary exploration of the Gaia Hypothesis as it explores the possibility that small bands of human-like survivors (hominids) were the original inspiration for the stories of fairies, gnomes, elves, and other magical creatures, which appear so often in European folk tales.
In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss some of the major works of Women’s Visionary Fiction in more detail and answer the question: Can Men Write Women’s Visionary Fiction?
Find Syllabi for courses in Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Poetry, and Women’s Visionary Film on my Educators Page.
Get the latest news about Women’s Visionary Fiction and my forthcoming novel The Village of Bones by clicking here.
This essay on Women’s Visionary Fiction originally appeared on the Visionary Fiction Alliance Blog, November 2, 2015.