A guest blog post
by Julie Bozza
When I wrote OF DREAMS AND CEREMONIES, the sequel to BUTTERFLY HUNTER, I wanted to explore a couple of questions of spirituality. I don’t think I found any firm answers, mind you, but then maybe there aren’t any. Or maybe there are as many answers as there are individuals. We all have our own belief systems, after all – even those of us who are atheists. So maybe an exploration of the questions, and an honest ‘thinking / feeling things out for ourselves’, is all we can do.
Those of you who’ve read BUTTERFLY HUNTER will remember that Dave Taylor is surprised to find that he has some kind of connection with a particular location in the Australian Outback. This is the isolated waterhole where Nicholas finds his blue butterflies, which is known to Dave’s Indigenous friend Charlie as a Dreaming site. Because Dave can find this secretive place when others can’t, Charlie suspects that Dave has a spiritual connection with the waterhole, despite Dave being a white fella.
Being a white fella myself, many might sincerely believe I have no business writing about such things, and I apologise for any offence given. To quote from my acknowledgements in the novels, I wrote these stories ‘with nothing in my heart but a love of and a wish for interdependence between all our peoples – and for that perhaps any infelicities will be forgiven’.
I remained all too aware that I was approaching this with a white fella’s understanding, and I made sure that Dave himself expressed the same awareness. I’ve read a fair bit about the Australian Indigenous people’s Dreaming, and it feels pretty much impossible for a white fella to get her head around. It involves such a different way of thinking about time, let alone anything else.
So Dave and I were interpreting and applying ideas from our own perspectives. On the practical side of things, Dave was both conceived and born near the waterhole, despite his parents living in Brisbane. On the mystical side of things, the Barcoo grunter ancestor sleeping in the waterhole must have felt some kind of affinity with Dave’s soul, and created the connection between them. And thus it was all very much tied to place, to a specific location in a particular country.
Before all this unfolded, Dave never thought of himself as a spiritual person, and it’s probably still something that doesn’t quite sit neatly within him. He probably thinks of it all as something strange (though not unwelcome) that happened to him, rather than something that happened because of him.
So, I pondered – finally coming to The Question I wanted to explore in the sequel – how would Dave react to spiritual things connected to other locations, other countries?
In OF DREAMS AND CEREMONIES, Dave has followed Nicholas to England; Nicholas promptly proposes marriage and Dave just as promptly accepts. They spend their honeymoon in Cornwall, near a circle of standing stones. While (the English) Nicholas is drawn to the stones, and finds them eerie and unsettling, (the Aussie) Dave reacts to them with no more than mild interest. To him they’re a human construction that happens to long predate the nearby cottage they’re staying in, and that’s all there is to say about that.
So my answer to that question was that Dave is a spiritual creature within a particular context – within a country that he considers home – but that doesn’t necessarily make him sensitive to spiritual things associated with other locations steeped in other traditions and understandings. Whether that’s a misguided notion or not, I leave you to decide!
The Other Question I wanted to explore a little was what kind of ceremony it would take for these two men to feel married. At the time in England, the only legal option available to them was civil partnership, involving a ceremony performed in a civil or non-religious location. Nicholas declares that he thinks of this as marriage regardless of the legalities – but, while I don’t think he’s any more religious than Dave, I suspect Nicholas would have chosen a church service if he could.
The spoken vows required at that time certainly lacked poetry:
I declare that I know of no legal reason why we may not register as each other’s civil partner. I understand that in signing this document we will be forming a civil partnership with each other.
I had Dave and Nicholas each speak their own vows as well, which were based on the stories of their lives, to supplement those dreadfully prosaic words.
Returning to The Original Question for a moment … I was less explicit in the novel about another spiritual aspect of their stay in Cornwall. They befriend Margaret Widgery, a local woman who acts as caretaker for the cottage, along with her mother Joan and her daughter Maeve. The three women can be seen as representing the Maiden, Mother and Crone. While there’s some contention about the historical basis for the neo-pagan Triple Goddess, it is a potent idea.
Even though Nicholas never indicates whether he sees the three Widgery women in this way, he jumps at the chance of a handfasting ceremony led by Joan, to supplement his and Dave’s civil partnership ceremony. The novel also mentions other ways in which Dave and Nicholas affirm their vows to each other, in other times and other places. Indeed, between us we make it as thorough as we know how, bringing in both the practicalities and the different strands of spirituality to which they are connected.
They can hardly claim they weren’t thoroughly married to each other by the end!