Glimpsing La Vièio ié Danso – “The Untouchable Wild Goddess” – in Jóusè d’Arbaud’s Beast of Vacarés by Joyce Zonana

Nearly a century later, d’Arbaud’s words still have the power to startle and delight, vividly evoking Earth’s sacredness.


Early in Jóusè d’Arbaud’s 1926 Provençal novella, The Beast of Vacarés, the narrator, a 15th century gardian or bull herder, describes how in summer la Vièio ié danso—the Old Dancer— “can be glimpsed on the dazzling salt flats” that surround the Vacarés lagoon in the Camargue region of Southern France.

In a note, d’Arbaud explains that la Vièio is how locals refer to mirages in this liminal landscape where earth, sea, and sky merge. “Mirages are common in the Camargue,” he tells us:

They begin with a vibration in the air, a trembling that runs along the ground and seems to make the images dance; it spreads into the distance in great waves that reflect the dark thickets. How not to see in this mysterious Vièio, dancing in the desert sun, a folk memory of the untouchable wild goddess, ancient power, spirit of solitude, once considered divine, that remains the soul of this great wild land?

The untouchable wild goddess . . . once considered divine . . .”

Nearly a century later, d’Arbaud’s words still have the power to startle and move us, vividly evoking Earth’s sacredness. Here is a man, himself a bull herder in the region he so lovingly describes, who seems to have been a devotee of the Goddess, the “ancient power” he venerates and bring to life for his readers. Indeed, in an early poem, “Esperit de la Terro” — “Spirit of the Earth”— d’Arbaud explicitly dedicates himself to the old gods sleeping below the earth, vowing to “defend” and “aid” them. How extraordinary to discover this writer making such a commitment, well before the rise of our recent feminist spirituality and ecofeminist movements. D’Arbaud speaks directly to our current environmental, theological, social, and political concerns.

Continue reading “Glimpsing La Vièio ié Danso – “The Untouchable Wild Goddess” – in Jóusè d’Arbaud’s Beast of Vacarés by Joyce Zonana”

Lifting the Veil – #WontBeErased by Joyce Zonana

Samhain is upon us. Halloween. The Day of the Dead. All Saints’ Day. All Souls’ Day. That liminal time of year when the doorways to what the Celts called the Otherworld, Annwn in Welsh, are open. In New York City, we have the 45th annual Village Halloween Parade, a queer extravaganza of puppetry, masquerade, and cross-dressing that draws some 60,000 participants and over 2 million onlookers. Elsewhere, we have children in costume and lawns covered with plastic skeletons and illuminated ghouls. Everywhere, if we’re lucky, we might catch a glimpse of  “the piper at the gates of dawn,” the vision granted Rat and Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows: “something very surprising and splendid and beautiful”—Pan the goat-god, boundary-crosser, Friend and Helper, trans-being.

jz-headshotJust last week—a few days after the New York Times reported on the Trump administration’s efforts to define transgender out of existence—I read for the first time Welsh writer Arthur Machen’s 1894 novella, The Great God Pan, today considered a classic of horror fiction. Condemned as “morbid” and “abominable” by most critics when it was first published, the tale was hailed as “un succès fou” by Oscar Wilde, recuperated in the 1920s by H. P. Lovecraft, and particularly praised more recently by Stephen King, who called it “maybe the best” horror story “in the English language.”

Original edition with cover illustration by Aubrey Beardsley

The “queer” tale (the word “queer” recurs frequently throughout) is told by a series of straight-laced Victorian men, each of whom is horrified by the unspecified behavior and bearing of a mysterious woman, Helen Vaughan. Readers are led to suspect that Helen is guilty of some sort of sexual excess or transgression, but nothing is specified until after her suicide, when the medical examiner reports that he was “privileged or accursed” to see the “skin, and the flesh, and the muscles, and the bones, and the firm structure of the human body that I had thought to be unchangeable, and permanent as adamant, beg[i]n to melt and dissolve”: Continue reading “Lifting the Veil – #WontBeErased by Joyce Zonana”

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