Fifty years ago, California and elsewhere in the US and around the globe were roiling, creative, hopeful, and passionately dynamic places where many of those currently active in feminism and feminist religion and spirituality found their voices and lives’ work. To offer a taste of that historical moment through the eyes of one young woman, you are invited to enter the world of the novel Miami in Virgo.
Set in California’s Central Valley in the mid-seventies, Miami in Virgo is a coming-of-age novel narrated by seventeen year-old Miami Montague. Insecure and fatherless, Miami struggles to hammer out an identity through her photography and the practice of feminist Wiccan ritual with her friends. She is short-circuited and ambushed, however, by emotional rivalries, sexual insecurity, and family drama. Her early years spent with her fundamentalist grandmother in east Texas cast a long shadow.
Disappointments in love coupled with exposure to the nascent gay pride movement in San Francisco lead her to question her own sexuality. Her confidence in free fall, Miami enters into a reckless one night stand at a Halloween party that has disastrous consequences for her move into a household full of teenage stepbrothers when her mother unexpectedly remarries and they move across county. Her peccadilloes take on a spiritual dimension and she goes through a soul searing scrutiny which eventually leads to the resolution of her conflicts through the deepening of her character.
The appearance of her final love interest is as hard won as he is Deus ex Machina, harkening back to an early disappointment as well as satisfying her utopian longings. While the ending of the book is in some respects inconclusive, Miami’s growth and psychological maturation are sufficient and incontrovertible. She has come through an arduous journey and is rewarded with personal integrity, a love relationship, and a community of like-minded souls.
The book is very much a California story that celebrates the values of the 1970’s: the beginning of second wave feminism, the tail end of the radical 1960’s, and the hippie back-to-the-land movement. The book celebrates the mother/daughter relationship, and female friendships and creative drive take the foreground, while romantic relationships are frequently unrequited, fraught with potential damage, and harder to come by.
The novel explores mysticism in its many manifestations as much as it does feminist themes. It takes seriously the Pentecostal beliefs of the Holy Rollers in her grandmother’s circle that Miami lives with in her youth. She is a true believer with the potential to become a child evangelist. Here is an excerpt from the book describing her baptism:
I stood on the bank with the others in a white cotton shift. Pastor Everson was already in the river with the water up to his waist, and beckoned me to come toward him. My friend Marlene Hampton told me she’d seen cottonmouths slither into the river on occasion, but my grandmother led me to understand that I could never be united with my father unless I went through with it, so I agreed to proceed. The silt river bottom squished between my toes, and by the time I reached the preacher, the water was up over my chin and I had to gulp for air. Pastor Everson leaned toward me and I thought he was going to pick me up, but instead he pressed down hard on my shoulders, forcing me under water.
Her Christian ideas gradually fade when she unites with her mother and returns to California. They’re reignited briefly by a handsome guitar player who’s involved with a Christian community. That relationship doesn’t pan out, and Miami and her friends form a coven and educate themselves about Wicca. Then there are the Native American prophecies in a book that her father wrote before he died. The world of the book is a mystical place where spiritual apparitions can be as real as everyday events.
Adoption of Wiccan beliefs doesn’t ensure that the tight world of the coven will be free from competition and rivalry, and even these sacred friendships fall prey to some very divisive forces. Here is another excerpt from the book, a description of one of their rituals:
The sun was high overhead and the sky mottled with clouds and finally we stopped and made a circle. We each took a stick and dug a hole in the ground for the offerings we’d brought. The earth was harder than it looked and it took the better part of an hour to do it. I buried a roll of film to dedicate my photography to the Goddess. Glenda buried her lipstick, Jane a quartz crystal, and K.D. a copy of Don Juan Speaks. We wrapped our braid in corn silk and cornhusks, binding it with calico scraps and fashioning it into a corn doll. K.D. drew eyes and a mouth with markers and attached strands of black yarn for the hair, and we buried the doll in the center of the circle. Jane broke off an ear of corn, husked it, and passed it around, and we each took a bite. It was so ripe and sweet it was like sugarcane and in the sacred space of the ritual I thought it was the most delicious thing I’d ever tasted. We lay down on the ground and Jane led us into a past life regression.
I didn’t know if I was going to have one or not, I didn’t think I was the type, but I actually had two of them. In the first one, I was a priestess in Delphi and sat on a three-legged birthing stool reading prophecies left by a python in the patterns in the sand. The sea shimmered in the distance, and other priestesses danced around me in flowing white Grecian robes. The second one was dark and chaotic, and I could barely make it out. I was in the Middle East somewhere, probably ancient Israel. There was an upheaval, perhaps a revolt against the Romans, and soldiers were chasing people, and there was blood on the sand.
BIO: Sally Mansfield Abbott is the author of MIAMI IN VIRGO, a mystical feminist coming-of-age novel. She has taught Goddess Worship in Prehistory at several colleges and universities in the Bay Area. She is a poet and peace activist.