Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Spotlight: Secret Lives by Barbara Ardinger

Secret Lives is a big novel about big issues—aging and death, the way our society treats its senior citizens, women’s friendships, the powers of love, the theory and practice of magic, the rebirth of the Goddess and Her ancient religion. It’s about the untidy mysteries of human life. As the baby boom generation ages, the issues in Secret Lives become more significant to readers and also more recognizable. Issues that used to matter only to their parents are now starting to pop up in the boomers’ own lives. This novel will thus appeal not only to the large audience that reads pagan fiction, but also to mainstream readers who love a good, complicated story and may have heard about pagans and gods and goddesses. As they read, they will learn a great deal.

Each chapter is a standalone story, although there are two arcs that comprise two stories and three stories. The bulleted notes that follow the barebones outlines and show how the stories are braided together and explain many of the allusions. An event may be foreshadowed in early chapters, for example, be the major plot of another chapter, and be resolved or echoed in later chapters. Likewise, people who appear as minor characters in some chapters become major actors in other chapters.

Read an excerpt!

Now the four spoke in chorus, their voices growing with the force that was moving around the circle.

Watchers above, we summon you to our work. From the starry paths upon which you dance, lend us your far-seeing wisdom. Quicken our magic tonight.

Watchers below, we summon you to our work. From the dark and hidden worlds that wait beneath, lend us your powers of fertility and rebirth. Quicken our magic tonight.

The air was tingling now and a palpable energy was moving around the room.

Time is present. Power is here.

As the invocations echoed back from beyond the walls of Herta’s ordinary living room, four of the women lit the indigo candles, their flames dancing and redoubling in the gathering energies. Herta folded her hands at her heart and nodded her head in an ancient gesture of greeting.

She looks like one of the Sibyls, Brooke thought, and she looked again at the women she’d known and worked with for fifteen years. Our familiar friends, but tonight they’re the Erinyes. The Holy Furies. The avengers of the ancient world are present in this room. These women look perfectly capable of pursuing any criminal to his death. And probably beyond.

Eyes closed, Herta spoke again. “Terrible and invisible powers now present, justice is our intent. The cleansing of this neighborhood is our intent. A seed planted here to carry order throughout the city is our intent. Protection for all who live in fear, no matter where—this is our intent.”

* * *

And softly and slowly, with gradually increasing volume, the thirteen women began their chant, wordless at first, simple humming. Then drawn-out vowels were added, and some women added Names, and others added Words and Calls in languages little used in modern times. Accompanied by Julia and Margaretta on doumbeks, the women chanted, and soon the energies they were drawing up began to coalesce in their circle. The force of the chant grew, the sounds whirling, snaking, rushing in a shimmering vortex in the center of the modest living room.

As the chanting and drumming grew to their howling, screeching climax, Herta stood up. She reached out with both hands as if to grasp the power, and she focused it on the covered basket on the teacart before her.

The chant peaked, an orgasmic release of energy skirring around the circle, an incandescent elemental energy—

There! Herta caught the almost visible power in her hands and flung it into the basket with all the force she and the circle now embodied.

“It is done.”

Silence now.

Breathing heavily, some of them still swaying, the women sat for many moments with their eyes closed. Herta sat with closed eyes, too, feeling the energy return to ground, feeling it flow back to its source.

“Girls,” she said at last, “we’ve done it. We have empowered our guardian.”

The women looked at her, then at the teacart. They were about to be shown what Herta had drawn from her mother’s second old book, the book they had opened only a few times before. The last time—twenty years earlier, in the days of an undeclared war across the Pacific—they had created a different kind of protection. They had built a shield that would bring their sons and daughters home from Vietnam, safe and whole. One who had come home was Milly’s husband.

“As you all know, under the full moon in Cancer, I prepared a small nest in a box. I built it upon agate and jasper for strength and protection, upon petrified wood for transformation and great age, upon obsidian for grounded fire. I lined this small nest with the molted skin of a snake for rebirth, with bears’ claws and sharks’ teeth for ferocity, with owls’ feathers for swift and silent flight. I prepared this nest for three fresh eggs, laid on the day of the dark moon. One egg I painted white, one red, the third, black. Now we will see which egg hatches. And what hatches. We have birthed our avenger.”

She gestured toward the teacart. “Listen.”

They heard pecking and scratching, the splintering of an eggshell, the familiar sounds of hatching. And then unfamiliar sounds … a harsh bark, a cough, a rough hiss.

Herta lifted the large oval basket that covered the nest. “Look.”

There it lay, a box lined with gold cloth that cradled a bed of stones and a nest lined with snakeskin and claws and teeth and feathers. Two of the eggs lay intact, unfertilized, unhatched. But the black shell lay in pieces.

And sitting on the edge of the nest was a tiny, green, four-footed animal, its pale golden wings still plastered damply against its scaly sides. Its golden eyes were barely open.

“Our guardian. A creature as old as the heavens, as fierce as the fiery powers of earth.”

Read the reviews!

"This is not a light novel, although it has plenty of wit. In her beautiful prose, Barbara Ardinger tells a magical story of wisdom, both ancient and modern, celebrating life, death (and beyond), and the life phases in between, from menarche to menopause. Along the way, we experience the escapades of enlivened chairs and cartoon characters, and the antics of the circle’s familiar, a cat named Madame Blavatsky, as the Cheshire Cat. The heroines of this story, bound by a spiritual sisterhood, demonstrate what may be accomplished when people work with power to achieve the greatest good."

--Miriam Robbins Dexter, author of Whence the Goddesses and Sacred Display (with Victor H. Mair), editor of The Living Goddesses by Marija Gimbutas

"I love novels in which groups of women take on the patriarchy in some of its many manifestations, and in this one I also get the rare treat of Barbara Ardinger’s writing, always excellent, dealing with the topic of ageing with humour and occasional bawdy moments. What more could I want? I’m not telling you any more—you’ll have to buy the book!"

—Geraldine Charles, Editor, Goddess Pages, UK

"In Barbara Ardinger’s compelling new novel Secret Lives, I met a cast of fascinating characters, including Bertha Mutspell, a woman who delights in dressing and behaving outrageously; Maude Lincoln, a blind widow who glides through life without white cane or guide dog and who plays a mean game of cards; Herta Melos, the keeper of the ancient texts; and Madame Blavatsky, a talking calico cat who is the coven’s familiar. They and the other coven members charmed me from first sight with their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Though these women come from very different backgrounds and traditions, they play beautifully off each other, often bringing me to laughter with their wit and confident good humor.
However, this is not a mere feel-good book. These women are old, the eldest, being Emma Clare Culbertson, who is 97. They’ve seen and experienced the cruelties that our patriarchal culture inflicts on us all but particularly on women–the rape and intimidation of women and girls, the overmedication the old, the insistence that menstruation and all things sexual are shameful. For these women, the Kurgan invasion of Neolithic Old Europe are not just lessons they learned in history class. These women understand that they live with the legacies of those invasions every day. And they feel an urgent need to correct those wrongs.

As a coven they create a sacred space in which women can be free–where girls can celebrate their menarche, where sexual love can be honored, where people can die drug free and on their own terms. Accepting the physical limitations that age has imposed on them, they nonetheless cast powerful magic, drawing on the easy intimacy they’ve developed over decades of working together. And all the while they’re careful to keep their magic secret, knowing that to allow it to be broadcast would put the coven in danger.

Without writing a polemic, this brilliant story teller has successfully created a comprehensive tale about life as a woman in our patriarchal culture where dominance is the prime goal. Ardinger shows that we can, even in old age, create a different, more respectful, way to live. While this tale is full of humor and some very clever wit, this is not a work to read without thought. This book deserves a thinking reader. It offers much to digest. However, the rewards for the person who thinks are enormous, maybe even life-changing."

—Vila SpiderHawk, author of Hidden Passages: Tales to Honor the Crones, Short Stories and the Forest Song series


Barbara Ardinger is the author of seven books: Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives (Weiser, 2006); Quicksilver Moon, a novel (Three Moons Media, 2003); Finding New Goddesses: Reclaiming Playfulness in Our Spiritual Lives (ECW Press, 2003); Practicing the Presence of the Goddess (New World Library, 2000); Goddess Meditations (Llewellyn, 1998); A Woman’s Book of Rituals & Celebrations (New World Library, 1992; revised edition, 1995); and Seeing Solutions (Signet New Age Book, 1989).

Barbara’s day job is freelance book editing for print-on-demand and traditional publishers, the American Holistic Health Association, and beginning authors (on five continents) who have good ideas but don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. She has edited more than 250 books—novels and memoirs, nonfiction books on many topics (New Age, business, health, religion, etc.), academic theses and dissertations, screenplays, and poetry. (See for her comments about working with on-demand and vanity presses.) As a technical editor, she has edited research proposals written by scientists whose first language is not English as well as documents for aerospace, construction management, hazmat, and manufacturing companies. She has also written both user-friendly and user-hostile computer manuals.

Barbara’s anthologized short nonfiction includes a brief historical description of Isis in The Return of the Great Goddess, edited by Burleigh Mutén (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1997), and “Caloria, Found Goddess of Potluck” in Soul Stirrings: The SageWoman Cookbook, edited by Lunaea Weatherstone (Blessed Bee Media, 1999). Her anthologized short fiction includes an anti-war story (set in ancient Delphi) in a Wiccan deployment pamphlet published at McGuire Air Force Base; an autobiographical story, “Inanna on the Rocks,” in Celebrating the Pagan Soul (Citadel, 2005), edited by Laura Wildman; “A Vision of Sacred Fire” in Sacred Fire, edited by Maril Crabtree (Adams Media, 2006); and “Seeking What Is Lost: An Isian Meditation,” in Waters of Life: A Devotional Anthology for Isis and Serapis, published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (September, 2009).

A decade ago, she self-published a small book of revisionist fairy tales, for which she also drew the cover art. Although her son (a published poet) refers to her as a “guerrilla poet” who has to put her poetry in her own books because no one else will publish it, Barbara’s poetry has, in fact, been published, initially in Science of Mind Magazine (1980), later in The Isis Papers (1995), Oxymoron (1997), and on a Web site called Pegasus Dreaming. Three of her poems also appear in The Pagan’s Muse, edited by Jane Raeburn (Kensington, 2003).

Visit Barbara online at

1 comment:

Rebecca Camarena said...

Thank you for sharing Secret Lives.