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Book Review

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, Viking Penguin, London 1988 12-95

The "Satanic Verses" which form the title of Salman Rushdie's book are in praise of three goddesses, who are "Uzza of the radiant visage, goddess of beauty and love; dark obscure Manat, her face averted, her purposes mysterious, sifting sand between her fingers - she's in charge of destiny - she's Fate; and lastly the highest of all three, the Mother Goddess, whom the Greeks called Lato... they call her here Al-Lat, the Goddess" (pp. 99-100).

They are among - and, it appears, chief among - the three hundred and sixty deities worshipped at the House of the Black Stone in the city of Jahilia before the advent of Islam. When the Messenger is granted his vision which results in the Holy Koran, he hears these three verses. His dilemma is to know whether in hearing them "the devil came to him in the form of an Archangel", and indeed the message of this book is that it is impossible to know whether one's intuitions and inspirations come from God or Devil, since both are part of a Whole which mirrors and contains each, and includes us as well.

The horrendous results of the publication of this book and all the outcry about it contain little mention of the content of the actual verses, nor of the scenes in which the Goddesses are overthrown and with them a society in which women were powerful and, like the Goddesses, both terrible and full of a loving grace. The wine which was used in Goddess ceremonies must henceforth be banned, and only 'pure' water allowed, to banish all remembrance of women from the sacred.

We have here an account, set in the context of the birth of Islam, familiar to us from the Christian, Roman, and Jewish traditions. The much loved Goddesses who are Nature and our nature, represented by priestesses as well as priests, are overthrown in favour of a separatist monotheist deity always addressed and referred to in the masculine gender, served by an all-male establishment, with results we all know well.

Among such results, it seems to me, is the exclusion of discussion of this massive theme in all the verbiage and print about this book, from whatever source and culture.

© Asphodel P. Long (Wood and Water 27, Spring 1989)

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