The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.

THE FATES OF THE EARTH with JANE CAPUTI, Ph.D. 

JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. I'm Jeffrey Mishlove. Today we are going to explore "The Fates of the Earth." With me is Dr. Jane Caputi, professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico. Dr. Caputi is the co-author with Mary Daly of Webster's First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language. She is the author of The Age of Sex Crime and Gossips, Gorgons & Crones. Welcome, Jane.

JANE CAPUTI, Ph.D.: Thank you very much.

MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to be with you.

CAPUTI: Likewise.

MISHLOVE: You've taken a look at the most ancient mythological figures, the Fates, who are said to be even older than the gods.

CAPUTI: Older than the gods, yes.

MISHLOVE: Who are female.

CAPUTI: Uh huh.

MISHLOVE: And you've shown that our whole system of symbols and myths in Western culture has almost been stood on its head since those earliest of times.

CAPUTI: Yes, you could say a very clear principle of reversal, as it were, in that the earliest known images of divinity were frequently a triplicity of females, rather than the common male trinity that we have today. The Fates are the oldest -- that's a quote from Robert Briffault in his book The Mothers. They are the oldest known figures, and there's three of them. And our word stamina comes from the thread of life that they spin; and one spins out the thread, one measures it, and one cuts it. They basically rule human destiny. So yes, I'm talking about the Fates. And I'd like to make the point that in the ancient world they knew what they were doing when they mythologized. This is a sort of modern prejudice that sees, "Oh, this kind of quaint stories to explain the world," or something. No, these were the metaphysics, the philosophy, the theology. They knew about the forces that we're talking about now in chaos theory. They knew about nuclear fission. And they expressed these ideas through symbol, image, and story. So I think we could learn a whole lot by going back and looking at these myths and see what relevance they have to us today.

MISHLOVE: Many of the myths even suggest that the gods themselves were subject to fate.

CAPUTI: Absolutely. The gods were subject to fate. Fates are the cosmic force in the universe. They represent justice, balance, harmony, and the ultimate -- the Fates, we know them through like Lady Fortuna, with her wheel; what rises, what goes up must come down, right? And the down is coming up again. And so we know them through Lady Luck. We still have remnants of this. Where I come from, fate also means to speak into being. It comes from a Norwegian word, fari, meaning to speak.

MISHLOVE: To speak into being.

CAPUTI: Into being, yes -- again, a very ancient belief that language does not merely describe reality, it constructs reality, and that through the words we speak and the images that we keep around us we are calling a particular reality into being. Where I live right now, in New Mexico, for example, in the theology and philosophy of the Keres people, who are Pueblo indigenous peoples, their creator was Thought Woman.

MISHLOVE: Thought Woman.

CAPUTI: Thought Woman, who creates through the power of thought, and through singing and speaking into being her two sisters. And then this ancient trinity -- not really of goddesses, because I don't want to think of them as human women; I think it's really a mistake that cultures make when they begin to worship the human. I think that that tendency leads to derogation of animals and the environment and stuff like that. There's a kind of arrogance that led to the invention of the atomic bomb. But they're cosmic forces. That's what mythology is about; it's describing cosmic forces in the universe, and how humans can observe these cosmic forces, learn from them, and then guide their behavior accordingly. So Thought Woman thought the world into being, and spoke her sisters into being.

MISHLOVE: You've also noted that many of the indigenous peoples around the earth today have their own myths and folklore which is similar to the ancient ones. Like the Grandmothers are so important to American Indian tradition.

CAPUTI: Right. Absolutely.

MISHLOVE: Spider --

CAPUTI: Spider Grandmother, right -- who is also Thought Woman. She was a spider, and she spun -- spinning is a metaphor for that activity of the mind, that thinking, dreaming, spinning. And when you hear about the ancient ripples that they're discovering, where after the big bang you first have these ancient ripples in space, I think of the ancient Crone, the wrinkles. The Crone lives in the wrinkle of time -- Spider Grandmother with her web. That's what they were talking about. They were talking about the universe.

MISHLOVE: It seems to me that much of the heart of your thinking is that the very images that seem so horrible and horrific to us, that we don't want to look at, are the deepest, most powerful images.

CAPUTI: Yes, yes.

MISHLOVE: The image of the Gorgon, who turns men to stone if they should only look at her face.

CAPUTI: Yes. The Gorgon, we know her mostly through the figure of Medusa, although she is found, for example, in Mexican mythology, in the figure of Coatlicue. So the Gorgon, we know her as a moon goddess, who had hair of snakes and turned men to stone. But what does it mean to be turned to stone? It really means that you've died, that you've died, that you've gone back to being bones, you've returned to the mother. And this is a culture that yes, there's an extraordinary denial of death. And we don't want to look at what we have, I think in a racist metaphor, deemed as dark, deemed as forbidding. We've tried to say that women only have truck with the powers of life, with nurturance. The Gorgon and the Crone, those kind of figures, are here to remind us that no, women have much to do with the powers of death, and that whatever we repress will inevitably return to us -- for example, nuclear waste.

MISHLOVE: Yes. Well, one of the fundamental mythological structures, I think, of modern culture and Western culture in general, is the idea that to move away from the darkness and toward the light is good, that this is like moving into the heavenly realms. It's more spiritual.

CAPUTI: Yes. Right.

MISHLOVE: And yet there's a whole set of traditions that suggest that spirit resides in the darkness.

CAPUTI: Absolutely. The universe is made up of what scientists now call dark matter. This is the Black Madonna, or the dark mother, that ancients talked about forever, right? Matter and mother are from the same Latin root. And yes, I find it terribly ironic that in a culture that seeks illumination and sees all divinity in the light, that's the culture that created the atomic bomb. That's the culture that is now finding itself fried by the ozone hole. So yes, I think we'd better begin to avert our eyes and institute some reverence for the so-called dark powers.

MISHLOVE: In other words, if we're afraid to look at the darkness, at the demonic, it becomes a subconscious force within us that we're not even aware of.

CAPUTI: Yes, and we are completely out of balance. And I think that's where the Fates come in as well. The Fates are here to restore balance -- balance of all kinds. Balance in the distribution of wealth in the world, which is about as skewed as it can get. The distribution of education. The distribution of what we call power, which is energy, capacity to affect one's life. So the Fates are about restoring that balance. And it's inevitable. The Fates also tell us that -- the reason I think of the fates of the earth, rather than the fate of the earth, is because the fate of the earth implies that man -- and I use that pseudo-generic deliberately -- somehow holds the fate of the earth in his hands, his probably military hands, right? As if we're the powerful ones, as if we're the ones who are the dominant force in the universe. What nonsense! That's a reversal; we talked about that. All this talk of saving the planet; I mean, we need to save ourselves. The earth will survive us for a long time. Actually, some of the changes that are experienced right now might be her way of shaking us off.

MISHLOVE: If I hear you correctly, then, what you're saying is that the modern mythological system, which seems so off balance, so skewed, so one-sided, is intimately linked with the skewed qualities of our own culture, which have put us in a very precarious situation. We're on the brink of all sorts of potential disasters, and you're saying they didn't just happen by accident. They developed over thousands of years, and perhaps we could hold responsible the mythological systems that are dominant today.

CAPUTI: Well, hold responsible is a dialectic. You hold responsible the people who promote those mythological systems as well. But also it gives us a way out. If we look at the mythological system, and we realize that this is constructed reality, we can turn that to our advantage and become psychic activists, in a way, we could call it -- generating myths and symbols that challenge that reality, that transform that reality.

MISHLOVE: I like your term psychic activism.

CAPUTI: Thanks.

MISHLOVE: It's one that I've been fond of for a long time. But you also write about the notion of psychic numbing, and that we live in an age in which we tend to numb ourselves to the horrible realities around us.

CAPUTI: Right. Yes, we do; we seem to fragment our psyches, and not allow a dose of reality in. We desensitize ourselves to whatever kind of atrocities are going on, to the environmental. It's an insidious process. It's almost like radiation in a way, in that you don't see it, sense it, taste it, smell it. It just kind of creeps up on you. I see all sorts of evidence of psychic numbing. But I would say yes, we need to respond to that with developing psychic sensitivity, which are the basic powers of our bodies, which again have frequently been denied in this culture.

MISHLOVE: What you seem to be saying then -- and when you say psychic sensitivity, I think you're talking about it the way I would use it -- telepathy, clairvoyance.

CAPUTI: Right. Which are often seen as supernatural, paranormal, when really -- again I would like to explode that false dichotomy that separates the body from the psyche, and say, no, those are the natural powers of our bodies. Yes.

MISHLOVE: But when we live in a world which is full of injustices everywhere we turn, and we blind ourselves, we say and think that this is normal, that there's nothing we can do about it, that's one of the ways in which we close down.

CAPUTI: That is one of the ways we close down, and certainly that myth comes to us all the time -- that we're powerless, that we cannot influence fate. But I would suggest that we become fateful, which is aligning ourselves with the Fates -- see what the signs of the times are, and try and put ourselves in balance, working for justice. And then I think you begin to discover a different kind of power. The ancients also knew about chaos. The Gorgon was chaos. She had -- can I tell you a whole mythological story?

MISHLOVE: Yes.

CAPUTI: In the Gorgon you again get this fragmentation. The Gorgon was the same goddess as Athena, who was the owl-eyed Athena. And they split her off, and they make Athena basically responsible for the death of the Gorgon, which is really just cut off that deeper side of yourself, cut off those powers of death, cut off your knowledge of the cycles. But if you look at the latest image from the Lorenz attractor -- it's the face of weather, the random pattern, the irregular pattern of weather, the chaotic pattern. It's not irregular at all; it's absolutely beautiful. It's the face of -- it's owl eyes.

MISHLOVE: Or a butterfly.

CAPUTI: Or a butterfly. I see the owl eyes, and I think, this is what the ancients -- if you go to Ireland or to Malta, you see these spiraling eyes. In ancient Egypt the great goddess was known as the spiraling eye.

MISHLOVE: And this, we should say, is one of the fundamental images of chaos theory, which is a new area of science.

CAPUTI: Absolutely.

MISHLOVE: Which is beginning to give us some inroads to explaining things that were previously thought to be inexplicable.

CAPUTI: Inexplainable, horrific, ugly -- kind of like the face of the Gorgon. What chaos theory is saying is don't be afraid of the dark. Look into the face of what mainstream culture has told us is fearful, hideous, monstrous, and you'll see that it's beautiful, and it's a completely different kind of order.

MISHLOVE: In our culture perhaps one of the most despised, despicable images that we have is that of an ugly old woman.

CAPUTI: Right.

MISHLOVE: And you see this everywhere, where women are spending so much money and striving to maintain their own sense of attractiveness. In fact I believe the statistics show that most women don't think that they are attractive.

CAPUTI: Well, the whole culture is telling them that they're not. I mean, the whole culture is telling women we're not attractive every part of our lives. Every girl thinks she's too fat; every woman, whatever. That's a way to destroy your self-esteem and destroy your inherent powers. But particularly the old woman, what she signifies is very threatening. She does signify psychic powers. Old women everywhere in the world were seen as the holders, because you had stopped menstruating, and were therefore holding all your wise blood inside, in which you were seen as really developing more powers. Old women everywhere represented the powers of prophecy, of truth telling, of judgment. So I would say that that's what they're afraid of -- the eye of the old wise woman, the psychic powers that she represents, as well as the powers of death, the powers of chaos. What she represents, and what real women have to bear the burden of erasing -- what do all these ads say to us? "Decrease the signs of aging." I would say increase the signs of aging, because they are the signs of power -- that kind of wrinkled knowledge that Spider Woman embodies; Spider Grandmother -- she's old.

MISHLOVE: I think what you're saying is just so powerful -- that we have to begin to embrace the very things that have seemed so disgusting.

CAPUTI: Yes. Well, look what we've embraced that has been shown as being so attractive -- the consumer way of lifestyle, which gives us basically -- you know, "Boldly going where no man has gone before," which legitimates manifest destiny, incest. I mean, we've embraced things that seem to be attractive, but if consumers really looked at all these items on the shelf we might see strip-mined mountains, miles of toxic waste.

MISHLOVE: One of the things you've pointed out is that the patriarchal mythology is one of conquering.

CAPUTI: Yes.

MISHLOVE: And it's as if the universe, nature, is there to be conquered. If anything can be invented, let's do it. If a mountain can be climbed, let's do it. And that was sort of the attitude that led to the splitting of the atom, which you write about as a rape of matter.

CAPUTI: It is a rape of matter. But of course it's a rape that is going to be avenged. It is. Again, I think the movement of Western knowledge is, as Star Trek puts it, "to boldly go where no man has gone before." And I would say no, we need to reinstitute taboos and limitations on knowledge until we know what to do. We need to have an attitude of reverence toward nature, not an attitude of conquest. I'm not either pro- or anti-nuclear. I'm pro -- and I really take this from a Cherokee-Appalachian philosopher, Mary Wulawiakta -- I'm pro-reverence. We need to understand we're dealing with forces of the sacred that need to be respected and dealt with. We need to be invited before we dare to bite on the -- I think it was the snake inviting Eve. The snake was the guardian of wisdom.

MISHLOVE: Now, let's talk about this, because the snake is also reminiscent of one of the most ancient of female deities, the great dragon, from whom the universe was created in Mesopotamian myth.

CAPUTI: Yes, absolutely. Again, the dragon of chaos. And basically, yes, I think what those myths are telling us is that -- I think that the Adam and Eve myth as well -- it wasn't God's injunction not to eat the apple, it was the snake's. We need to realize that we need to be invited by the cosmic forces of wisdom before we tread into forbidden zones. We need to keep things in balance. Yes, so I would really like to reorder. I think that the thing about the bomb that's so interesting, though, is again it's extremely paradoxical, like any kind of sacred symbol. The bomb is about death, certainly; but if you look at popular culture it's also about life and transformation. I mean, what the bomb did -- we're told that it was the crowning achievement of Western knowledge and civilization. So what was the crowning achievement? The ultimate suicide machine. So therefore it demands that we not only wallow in fear, but that we begin to interrogate those Western myths of progress. Was this progress? Of rationalism -- this is what science has wrought. Of individualism. It forces us to do that, and I would hope ultimately act as a transformer, seeking to raise our psychic sensitivity and really demand what I would call a new world chaos.

MISHLOVE: You also attack the notion of secrecy.

CAPUTI: Yes.

MISHLOVE: You draw a parallel between the secrecy that the government has kept for so long about the development of the bomb, and the various tests that have been done on human beings, to test radiation on them, and the way in which violence, incestual violence in families, is kept secret.

CAPUTI: I think incest is the primary paradigm of knowledge in this culture -- that kind of invasion, betrayal of trust, secrecy. Yes, and boldly going where no man has gone before. If you look at incest survivors' accounts, you find the most frequent metaphor for their experience is being shattered by an atomic bomb. And yes, the kind of secrecy, as well as the whole notion of the bomb. And we certainly saw this in Cold War propaganda, right up until to this day, however -- if it's a bomb it's going to protect us. But what's the bomb protecting us from? The bomb! So just as like the incestuous father is there supposedly to protect you, when actually he's out there violating you. And I think in those basic structures of our culture, a kind of double-think, we see patterns that are reflected on a global scale.

MISHLOVE: And when we talk about light as being goodness, the image of the bomb is an incredible brilliant flash, which is often compared in popular writings to some sort of divinity.

CAPUTI: Absolutely. And in a way the bomb -- I'm not saying is a divinity, but the bomb is cosmic forces. It is elemental power. And what I would think of the bomb as -- and this is really a quite outrageous thing -- but I think of the bomb, even the ozone hole, nuclear waste, as aspects of what the ancients understood as the raging goddess, Kali, who is enraged. She has been disrespected or violated, so she shows her angry face. And she threatens to take us all back into the womb, which is the ultimate cauldron of chaos, to reform us anew. So the bomb, you see that kind of imagery going on as well.

MISHLOVE: So in other words, not only must we look into the darkness to discover the light, but we ought to look at the light to see how dark it is.

CAPUTI: Absolutely. That's true. I hadn't thought of it that way.

MISHLOVE: A lot of your work also deals with interpersonal relationships -- the way we conceive of our identities as they're shaped by these cultural forces.

CAPUTI: Yes. And that's what I think is so powerful about myth, because identity is never static. Identity isn't formed when you're two years old and then left. It's a constant dialogic process; you're constantly reforming your identity. And those of us who have been given -- you know, I always think of women, because I am one -- who have been given so many negative messages by the culture about who we are, our body shape, our mental capacities, our sexuality, whatever -- can find extraordinary transformative power in these myths. In the face of the Gorgon we can recognize that women too can develop -- and I'm taking this from another philosopher, Emily Culpepper -- they sometimes need to develop a face that will repel men, a face of rage -- for example, if we're being attacked in a rape kind of situation or whatever. In the Crone, it can make a whole transformation as one opposes, and realize -- you know, in some ways we can look at the earth as undergoing sort of a Crone phase. We're not going to have the benevolent earth mother anymore, you know -- the constantly full breast, ready for everyone to suck on. We're going into an age of scarcity. The world is going through a change of life right now, and I think that if women realize that we are in some way in tune with these cosmic forces, yes, I think it can empower you and help you resist all the negative messages that the patriarchal culture is consistently forcing down our throats.

MISHLOVE: And I suppose another one of these negative messages that is laid on women is the idea of gossip -- that women's ways of knowing and thinking are gossipy or trivial. I'm thinking of the Jewish word bubemeise, which means sort of the talk of old women. It's used as another word for nonsense.

CAPUTI: The talk of old women in the myths brought this world into being, the green world we all love and adore -- well, we should, anyway. But yes, gossip is a very interesting word. It actually came from two words, god and sibling, and it meant someone with whom you had a spiritual affinity, your very best friend, with whom there was almost a divine bond. And then you gossip together. So I think of gossip as doing two things. I believe women must tell the truth about the harms that have been done to us -- you know, be it incest. I think just as people who have been harmed by the government in radioactive experimentation or whatever need to speak the truth -- in the truth, when you break that silence, that's when the healing begins, obviously. But gossiping is also about going back to the powers of Spider Grandmother. It's about speaking the world into being. And we need to do that collectively; we need to do that communally; we need to do that with our other gossips. And men were gossips just as much as women were in the beginning. It's when it became associated really with negative factors that women's talk -- women's talk has always been put down, and that's a clue how important women's talk is.

MISHLOVE: You seem to be saying that at this particular point in history, this postmodern age, it's a time when we can recreate myths -- that we can work consciously to build new myths. Can you tell me more about that process?

CAPUTI: Yes. I think we have to realize that so much of our lives, our psyches, and the reality around us, is shaped by myth and symbol. And the generation of myth and symbol through mass media, etcetera, is often in the hands of the elite, and I think we have to fight fire with fire in that way, and take back, wrench back, myth and symbolic power. So that is what I am suggesting that we do, in any aspect of our work. I do it through writing and teaching, obviously. But if we are raising children, if we are artists, if we're filmmakers, if we are even businesspeople, you change that in your own life, yes. I think that's kind of a chaotic strategy.

MISHLOVE: You've gone so far, in this delightful Wickedary of the English Language, to create new words, to redefine things. I notice in your writing that you use the word "snoolish" or "snool."

CAPUTI: Snoolish -- that's actually a word Mary Daly made up, to mean -- because if you just say men all the time, or males, none of us mean to imply -- well, some people imply, but I don't mean to imply that anybody's guilty by birth. I think that men can declare disloyalty to traditional masculinity, to the kind of rapist model of masculinity, the warhead model of masculinity that patriarchy promotes, just as whites can declare disloyalty to racism, etcetera. A snool is someone who declares loyalty to those values, and who grovels in the typical sadomasochistic -- he combines sadism and masochism within himself, as any hierarchy demands. You know, whenever you're beating somebody down, somebody else is beating you. So that's what a snool is, and yes, I believe that we need to use these words. English doesn't give us the words to adequately describe either the horrors that are taking place or the new reality we want to evoke. So yes, we need to become word magicians and invent new words.

MISHLOVE: It's as if we don't even have to be limited by the vocabulary that we inherit.

CAPUTI: No, absolutely not.

MISHLOVE: Or the grammar, I suppose.

CAPUTI: Or the grammar, certainly the grammar -- yes, taking us in a linear line, a line of domination, objectification. You get the point; you follow that line.

MISHLOVE: Most people don't realize that they have the freedom to create new words if they want.

CAPUTI: But some of the most creative people I know regularly create new words and incorporate them into their lives.

MISHLOVE: And yet creating new myths I think is a deeper matter. Most myths have such a force that it's almost as if they create us, rather than we create them.

CAPUTI: I'm not sure. I mean, creating a new myth is really quite a task. I think rather we retell the story; we take back storytelling power. So instead of telling the story of the atom bomb as Western man's ultimate conquest of nature and crowning achievement, we tell it as their supreme folly. When they thought they were controlling nature, what they were really doing was unleashing a force that was absolutely uncontrollable. So we tell the story differently. That's the way I think of as creating new myths.

MISHLOVE: And of course what you're doing is looking at the old myths that have been sort of pushed underground, and saying it's time to resurrect them.

CAPUTI: It's time to resurrect them and realize that again these are not just simple stories and pictures from the past. The Egyptians had a myth of the great eye goddess. She wasn't even attached to a body. She was just this eye in the sky, and what she symbolized was raging fury and blinding light. And you knew you had gone too far if she opened her eye and looked at you. I see the ozone hole as really precisely the same phenomenon as the ancient Egyptians were talking about. We have gone too far. We have pushed the limits. We have disrespected the elements and the other creatures on the planet, and nature will take care of us. So what I like to do is draw connections and get us to start thinking mythically about the phenomena that surround us right now.

MISHLOVE: It's as if the ancient powers are actually awakening in response to the imbalance.

CAPUTI: Yes, they are. And you hear that, particularly in indigenous cultures -- the grandmothers are awakening, the grandmothers are coming back. And sure, make up words. I call the ozone hole "Ozona."

MISHLOVE: Well, Jane Caputi, this has been a delightful time with you. I really appreciate your willingness to look at some of the most accepted aspects of our culture -- things that people never question, you are looking at, and saying we have to turn this around, we have to see it differently.

CAPUTI: Oh yes.

MISHLOVE: Your mind is deep and flexible and joyful. This is really a pleasure being with you.

CAPUTI: Well, thank you very much; very much pleasure to be with you.

- END -


Index of Transcripts    Top of  this Web Page    Intuition Network Home Page    Thinking Allowed Productions Home Page