Terry in Herland, Chapter 13

Minoan snake goddess
After rescuing Alim’s necklace, I wasn't chloroformed or buried in the fortress. I was escorted—frog-marched—back to the men’s quarters in Solis. I was settled in a chair. I was told to wait; three women stayed behind to watch me.

Eventually, Moadine and Somel and Java arrived with Jeff and Van. Jeff and Van looked more upset than the women, but of course, the women always assumed I would behave barbarously.

“How could you, Terry?” Jeff cried. “Such sacrilege! The women's temple!”

“It was terribly dangerous,” Van said. “Some cultures would kill you for violating a holy place.”

“Yes, they would,” I said and turned to our mentors. “But surely, Herland is too rational for that. Your religion is all about kindness and good conduct. God—the Goddess—is a force, a feeling, a pervasive aura of love, yes?”

Silence while Jeff sighed and wagged his head.

“They worship Motherhood,” Van said. “An Earth Mother.”

“You know as well as I do how other cultures worship Earth Mothers,” I told him. “They kill Winter Kings. They sprinkle blood in the soil for their crops. They sacrifice—”

“It's not the same!” Van said sharply before I mentioned what some cultures did with babies. I wasn't going to. I was going to mention what some cultures did with the aftermath of childbirth. Then I was going to move on to female and male temple prostitution.

I'm not religious—agnostic probably describes me best—but I'll opt for a dangerous, in-your-face, tangible religion any day over a “nice” one.

Somel said, “Our religion was like that, long ago. During those early years, after our ancestors were cut off from the world but still remembered it, our religion was harsher, crueler, more—”

“Physical,” I said.

“Yes.”

“And now your religion is all about good thoughts and rational discourse and endless discussion—”

As if human beings have no dark sides, no poetic stirrings from the deep, no infernos, no demon royalty, no savage moons.

“They have rituals,” Van, the sociologist, pointed out.

“Pageants in the service of the state,” I told him and turned back to the mentors. “Why the altar? Who gets those 'sacrifices'?”

Dawn French as the Vicar of Dibley
“Women volunteer their time to act as Temple Mothers. They listen to the troubles of others.”

Like the young woman in the temple today. I’d recognized her as one of Van's followers. Maybe she was jealous of the attention he paid to Ellador. Would she admit it? Would she be that frank? Or would her whimpers get wrapped up in acceptable rhetoric, the proper way to talk about one's troubles?

I said, “Just as a priest listens to confessions. We have paid clergy. We acknowledge as much. I guess you do as well.”

“The donations are not given automatically to the Temple Mothers. They are distributed, often returned to the community.”

“Who decides that? You? Your queen? Other mentors?”

“A committee.”
Bachelor Maiden Club

As if a committee removed the politics of the situation. Even if all Herland residents voted on new laws and policies, as the mentors claimed, the day to day decisions still remained in the hands of specific power-brokers. As in any society.

Van looked troubled.

Jeff didn’t.

“How wonderful,” he proclaimed and gave me another disappointed shake of the head.

I got up, kicking back my chair. “This is mine,” I said, holding up the necklace. “For Alima. I don't care who bullied her into giving it up. She's getting it back.”

Van followed me to our dormitory room. He sat on the bed across from mine.

He said hesitantly, “You really shouldn't have—a temple, Terry!”

“Another form of power, one group holding sway over another.”

Van sighed. He's as non-religious as me but he gives greater value than I do to beliefs and faith. People, Van maintains, are motivated as much by large ideas as small ones.

He isn't completely wrong. Except for all the times he is.

I said, “You know what Jeff is doing right now? He's translating 'committee' into 'sweet service organization'—the good little women—”

Van winced. Jeff's veneration of Herland's women made him as queasy as it did me and, to be fair, many of the women themselves.

He said, “Those service organizations do good work. They're efficient, determined—”

“Not the way Jeff describes it. He thinks it is 'so marvelous' how these women work together. 'So inspiring.' Like those Victorian pictures of happy happy people.”

“I don't think the women see it that way. Not here and not in our country.”

“No, they don't. That's the point. Herland has leaders. It has groups that make decisions. It’s a social order like any other.”

“And some social orders are better than others," Van said. "American democracy, for one.”

“Which is open, transparent!”

“Back room deals? Oregon Land Scandal?”

I groaned and let my head fall into my hands.

“I hate the pretense,” I mumbled, feeling like Alim. “The way we're supposed to accept how faultless and right-thinking everything is—”

“If you would only accept it, give it a chance—” Van said, then held up both hands when I glared at him through my fingers.

In Herland, Van had Ellador. He had good food, nice views, and endless opportunities to converse on any and all topics. Herland was Van's paradise—or rather, his idea of a very, very good club.

Jeff was the one who saw Herland as heavenly, the kind of heaven where people float around playing harps and sitting on clouds and looking like cherubs with nothing whatsoever to do (because someone else is doing all the real work behind the scenes).

I wanted to go home to the messy, loud, dirty, problematic West, and I wanted to take Alim with me.

Van said, “Ellador told the mentors that you and Alima are engaged.”

He smiled hopefully as if being engaged would wipe out all my objections and supposed bad behavior. An engaged man would presumably never annoy his many, many in-laws with uncouth behavior.

God help a marriage built on that assumption.

Still—it was a good a solution as any. Clever Ellador. I half-laughed.

I said, “You and Ellador are also engaged?”

Van flushed and grinned. He was truly happy with his Ellador as she appeared to be with her Van. I was truly pleased for him.

He said, “We are. She wants to see the outside world, to assess it for herself.”

As we men had not been allowed to do in Herland. Heaven forbid anyone tried to lock up Ellador and feed her an official narrative.

I said, “And if Alima wants to leave too?”

Van blew out a long breath. “Ellador doesn't think they will encourage her—”

“Let her, you mean.”

Support her in leaving. Come on, Terry, you know as well as I do: you violate taboos, you have to pay a price.”

I did. But Alim shouldn't have to.

Next Chapter 14: Alim