Goddess Murder, 25: North to Sonoma

XXVII.  North to Sonoma, 1

Curled up in the passenger seat, Andy asked, “So where are we going?”

“To Avalon. It’s a commune I know up in the hills of Sonoma County. One thing I study is how new religions are formed.”


“The specific academic field I’ve ended up in is heresiology. I’ve always been curious about why some people are creative, but some people of equal intelligence, at least as measured by IQ tests, are not. My undergraduate work was in creative writing. Once I understood how poems and novels and plays are created, I started to wonder how creativity manifests in more important aspects of life, in creating new forms of social organizations, especially in creating new religions. That led me to realize that many of the so-called heresies of the past were new religions, started unfortunately in an era when the religious establishment had the power to stamp out any competition. Studying new religions now tells me a lot about what those heresies back then might have been.

“Anyway, in the course of my research, I made friends with Puck and Ariel, the founders of Avalon. They’re grateful I’ve made sure they get fair treatment by other scholars, in legal fights over whether they are a `real’ religion or not. I’ve got an open invitation to visit whenever I feel like it. Now seems like a good time to take advantage of that.”

I took the divide to the left where Highway 80 branches off the 17 and headed for the Richmond bridge.

Andy stared out at the passing houses. “Megan tells me you used to be married.”

“That I was.”

“What happened?” she asked.

I thought for a moment. “Divorce is always a long story. It’s hard to tell where the story of the marriage becomes the story of the divorce. The crisis was when Rachel, my daughter, went off to Radcliffe. Janet told me that job was done, that she had a fabulous job offer in New York, that she knew I would never leave my position here, and that she was taking the job anyway.”

“Was she angry with you about something?”

“No, not at all. It was just that I had become boring, she said. She couldn’t stand the idea of spending the rest of her life being bored and boring.”

“Was the breakup her fault or yours?”

“It was probably my fault. I enjoy what I do so much that I do it all the time. That didn’t leave much energy to keep the marriage alive. She said she still loves me and always will, but if we stayed on that path, she’d end up hating me. She didn’t want to ever feel that way. She’s a brilliant woman. It was an extraordinary job she was offered. A man wouldn’t have hesitated to take it and drag his wife away from whatever she was doing and across the country with him. I did try to go with her. I sent out enquiries and resumes, but the freedom I have to do whatever I want in the GESW is quite unusual. If I had taken a lesser post, I’d have ended up hating it and hating her. So we decided it was better to make it a clean break.”

“Do you miss her?” Andy asked.

“I did, terribly, at first. I felt completely abandoned. But she’s much happier now than she’d been for years. I’m glad for that. She sees Rachel regularly and keeps me filled in on what Rachel doesn’t write about. I miss Rachel too, but I expected to.”

“It’s hard to second-guess someone else’s life decisions,” Andy said quietly, “but I’d say Janet made a big mistake. For what it’s worth.”

“Thank you for that,” I said, glancing over to see if she was smiling. “I’m used to it now. I’ve been thinking I need to get on with life.”

“I’ve got another question,” she said brightly.

“Fire away.”

“How come I met a Catholic seminary professor at a Witches’ circle? Are you some kind of heretic yourself?”

I laughed. “I’ve been accused of that often enough, usually by people who don’t know much about history and modern theology. How do I explain this without being longwinded?” I stopped to think a moment.

“I’m a fortunate man. I’m free to research and teach whatever I feel like. I bore people who don’t share my interests. Although I teach Catholic theology, among other things, being at a private graduate school has protected me from discipline by the hierarchy. I deal with the theology of the Holy Spirit, which, in Catholic terminology, is the creative energy of God. All creation, physical, mental, spiritual, economic, social, whatever, is powered by the Holy Spirit. Any new religion that serves its members well is thus a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.”

Andy said, thoughtfully, “I can imagine a conservative Christian facing the dilemma that, if the revelation through Jesus is necessary and sufficient for salvation, why does the Holy Spirit keep creating other religions?”

I nodded. “The answer lies in the parable of the Prodigal Son, which says that God will break all his own rules in order to rescue any person, whether the pious like it or not.”

“Do you see that as a bridge between Catholicism and Witchcraft?” she asked.

“Yes, but it’s weak. It gives me some leeway as a scholar, but it wouldn’t allow me to practice the Craft as an initiate; I’d have my fingers crossed. But I was blindsided by what that Gospel of Diana had to say about Jesus. It will take me a while to digest that.”

“Yes, I got to see that, working with Angie,” Andy agreed. “It’s pretty wild, though it does resemble some aspects of our Tradition. Tell me, are you a Catholic or not?”

“I honestly don’t know. I left the Church as a teenager, going on my own quest for truth. When I got sober ten years ago, I had no support system. The New Age stuff I was involved with gave me no way to work the steps. I tried going back to Mass and discovered I did have unfinished business to resolve. It was strange, having learned about church doctrine and scripture and history and so on as a nonbeliever, then having to figure out how to apply it to myself. I’ve maintained a space for myself way out on the left wing of the church. That’s given me a spiritual basis for staying sober, but . . . there’s a lot about the church that bothers my conscience. The politics. The authoritarian structure. So far I’ve been able to keep in the bishop’s good graces . . . but he’s one of the most intelligent and liberal bishops in the American church. Some other bishop might easily have declared me a heretic. Does that answer your question?”

“Well enough for now,” she said.

We were crossing the county line between Marin and Sonoma, near the abandoned drive-in movie that had shown hardcore pornography visible from the highway during its notorious last days. We’d be coming to Petaluma next.

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