The only way for human beings to survive the end is to return to the beginning. 

Those are the very last words of Barbara Mor’s landmark 1987 book,The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth1The Great Cosmic Mother; Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth. (San Francisco: Harper&Row, 1987). Monica Sjöö is listed as co-author, but in fact Barbara Mor is its sole author. Sjöö’s pamphlet The Ancient Religion of the Great Cosmic Mother of All (1975) was the original inspiration for the book and her artwork illustrates the volume. All citations in italics are from this book.. I know of no work that so rigorously, exhaustively and passionately details the ancestral wisdom available to our species—or one that is as necessary to us in this moment. Reading through the material in this issue it occurred to me that The Great Cosmic Mother had actually paved the way for much of it—whether our contributors had read the book or not. Case in point:

The animism of primal peoples has been called “childish.” In fact it is a profound, experiential perception of the evolutionary relation between all life forms as manifestations of the original one—the first cell from which all life multiplied, the original cosmic egg. When human survival depends on such a sensitive rapport with the environment—as it always has, and always will—such a conception is not infantile, but crucial. Human survival does indeed depend on a sacramental relation to nature. Now that this relation has been betrayed, and destroyed, we know how important it was. And is… (p. 80)

 If ‘modern man’ neither sees nor hears, the fault is in his dead sensorium.

Or this passage, which I quoted in the second editorial I wrote for this journal, right after her death:

We are about to destroy each other, and the world, because of profound mistakes made in Bronze Age patriarchal ontology—mistakes about the nature of being, about the nature of human being in the world. Evolution itself is a time-process, seemingly a relentlessly linear unfolding. But biology also dreams, and in its dreams and waking visions it outleaps time, as well as space. It experiences prevision, clairvoyance, telepathy, synchronicity. Thus we have what has been called a magical capacity built into our genes. It is built into the physical universe… To evolve then—to save ourselves from species extinction—we can activate our genetic capacity for magic. (p. 422)

Readers of this journal will know that the activation of our genetic capacity for magic has been abundantly present in its pages —and this issue is no exception.

Barbara Mor was a hugely important foremother, and as far as I can tell also a largely forgotten one—so it’s ironic, not to say tragic, that a recurrent theme in her writing was the forgetting and distorting of history.  “…the burning vision I retain from the 60s-70s,” she wrote in a letter, “was our need to retrieve women’s work/history & embed it so weldedly into our art & culture & scholarship, these women’s contributions to human evolution would never get buried alive. And then for 2 decades or more I’ve been watching that burial happen again, richly in the name of Gender Studies….”2Personal correspondence used by permission of Harriet Ann Ellenberger.

But we continue to dig in the ruins, she wrote in The Great Cosmic Mother, seeking the energy of memory; believing that the reconstruction of women’s ancient history has a revolutionary potential equal to that of any political movement today.  (p. 27)

Unabashed rage was the driving force behind much if not all of Barbara’s visionary writing. But alongside the rage, there was always grief:

…..suburbs of located normality there is a bank there is a
church there is a school there is a life once oracle once
Delphi once pythoness of the world her body busy & lost
watching thru glass children in plastic pools wives&husbands
joined in squat marriage over toiletbowl&insurancepapers (pp. 109,110)

What Barbara mourned most of all was our “quantum/magic/poetic capacity to re-engineer a world committing suicide (for want of Female intelligence).”  For the rage and the grief were not only on behalf of women: 

in Africa we are eating primates,gorillas,chimpanzees
logging roads open to men w/light,cheap weapons
semiautomatic slaughter kill the jungle there is a
market for “monkey meat” as one would eat ones
child,mother laughing without shame bullet tears
,or machinegun them to death for Nothing,because
that is life,a river thick with hippos,pigs or human
bodies stink all the same,in Africa as elsewhere,it 
is time to eat ourselves,the hour of ouroboros
eating his delicious lunch,fat bulldozers order our
bones like gods, the time of mining whales for
dogfood,the seas all stink w/death,& will soon be
deserts as Men have dreamed in the great religion
of machines&War.breed children for Armies or for 
food,or let them die to clear our continents,scrape
Africa etc flat&bare as a newborn planet,build
Industries of disaster that need disaster,disease 
that feeds disease,manufacture Death to profit huge
tautologies of Money    (p. 124)

In the writing she did after The Great Cosmic Mother, most of it collected in The Blue Rental3 Barbara Mor, The Blue Rental (New York: the Oliver Arts & Open Press). , Barbara radically reinvented grammar, syntax and the way words appear on the page.

…… I have a
lot of voices in my head (desert delirium?!). No, women are
many voices, & no single genre, like no conventional linear/
narrative sentence can capture the multidimensional context
& pain & possibility of the world today (it never could). We
are poets, we are polemicists, we are prose essayists, news 
reporters, theorists, cosmologists, historic witnesses. All
this is what it takes for women writers to rewrite the world. 
Each of us has to work out a way to get it All in: including
the kitchen sink, the garbage disposal, the local dumpsters,
the great human trash mounds of the world now become
human habitat for so many.4 Working notes, “The Missing Girls,” Trivia: Voices of Feminism #12, Spring 2012

Radical reinvention of language and form was in Barbara’s case not separable from her dedication to conveying the experience of bodies that have been rendered invisible, if not disposable.

In one letter to me, Barbara referred to herself as a “solitary grumbling witch,” and it’s true that neither she nor her writing had anything warm or fuzzy about them. But I’ve never worked with a writer who was more conscious and appreciative of my labors as an editor. Barbara noticed work that went on behind the scenes, especially if it was work that made other life/lives possible. Her 13 months living homeless in Tuscon gave her special sympathy for women who clean motel toilets—she was one of them. 

“In 1987,” writes Edgar Garcia in his quasi-biographical review of The Blue Rental, “she moved again to Tucson, believing the prestige of recently published Great Cosmic Mother might secure her a lectureship at the University of Arizona (hoping to simultaneously write a comparative study of Celtic and Mesoamerican spiritual systems). Instead, she failed to get even cleaning work in their maintenance department. She was soon on the streets. Mor remembers a particularly telling episode during this period of homelessness when she was caught sponge bathing in a bathroom at the University. She was run out by a maintenance worker even as her book was being taught at the University.”5Edgar Garcia, “Barbara Mor’s The Blue Rental: Rooms Outside Hollywood, Hell, USA,” Los Angeles Review of Books, April 19, 2014.  As cruel as this fate was, being shut out of the academy was, as Garcia points out, a boon to her life’s work of “taking apart the visceral reality beneath our national mythology.” The women she met on the streets—prostitutes, homeless women, women who toiled long hours for crap wages—seem to have inspired much of the writing in The Blue Rental.

she might be a woman of genius abandoned husband and/or
children to write in a bare room desperate fictions or construct
philosophies of our disappearance her cause is hopeless
on her back inventing God on my knees scrubbing cloister
floors which she entered to study algebra or catalog
poetry of asylums,her ink personal blood stealthily extracted
womans work as daily excrement is womens work
staring into washtubs toilets abattoirs bowels of diapers&
hospital sheets the Void men make a philosophy of
daily female practice scouring foul tenets pretend to heal
 war poverty lust conduct economies of scale i count out
 toothpicks string bouillon cubes she became an old woman
selling old spoons in a doorway with no teeth,or in some
battlefield ditch or brothel she was once beautiful or brave but
nameless nothing survives  (p. 106)   

Just before she died (as I wrote in the issue #2 editorial), I had an exchange with Barbara about this journal-to-be. Initially I’d written to ask her permission to use the title, since I discovered, only after I had decided on it, that she had a blog called Dark Matter/Walls. Barbara gave me her blessing for “Dark Matter,” but later, when I sent her the link to our website, she wrote to me with misgivings: “Post GCM (The Great Cosmic Mother),” she wrote, “I had enough of those New Age women who were immersing in their version of dreams & visions to escape (in my opinion) the disciplines of history & the chaos of politics. I think our dreams & visions need to be grounded in the horrors of ancient & current realities; & that it is time to retrieve the polemical Fist, if not my version then someone’s somewhere.” 

I hope Barbara would agree there has been no escaping from the disciplines of history and the chaos of politics in the pages of this journal. Certainly not in this issue! But I think it’s fair to say that if the polemical Fists of the writers we publish are raised, it is always—as it was for Barbara— in the name of communion, connection:

We must remember the chemical connections between our cells and the stars, between the beginning and now. We must remember and reactivate the primal consciousness of oneness between all living things. We must return to that time, in our genetic memory, in our dreams, when we were one species born to live together on earth, as her magic children. (p. 424)

* Adapted from “Radical: A tribute to Barbara Mor,” Trivia: Voices of Feminism #17.

About the Author

Lise Weil, editor of Dark Matter Women Witnessing, was founder and editor of the US feminist review Trivia: A Journal of Ideas (1982-1991) and co-founder of its online offshoot Trivia: Voices of Feminism, which she edited through 2011 and which is now archived here. Her memoir, In Search of Pure Lust, appeared in 2018 with She Writes Press in the U.S. and Inanna Press in Canada. She lives in Montreal and teaches in Goddard College’s Graduate Institute, where she recently helped found a concentration in Embodiment Studies.

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