I have been making manuscript books in earnest for about ten years now. Over the years I made a few small books in calligraphy workshops, but my genesis as a book artist sprang from making The Charge of the Goddess in 2003. I wanted to make a pagan prayer book, and this was the closest to liturgy I could find, in cadence, tradition, weightiness and intent. I had begun circling with women and the Charge is used to invoke the Divine Feminine. The language of the Charge is that of the Goddess speaking to her children, imposing duties and responsibilities, instructing, entrusting. The word “charge” also means to excite or to rouse (being “charged up”). I suppose by working with the Charge, I was answering the question asked of us in a workshop I took with Ewan Clayton in 2000: “What is your calligraphy FOR?”
I had recently discovered the fun of playing with pigmented paste on paper, and in the summer heat of 2002, I embarked on a paste paper marathon in the shade of my carport. I painted for days, producing not only these pages, but also the large single sheet I used to make pages for The First Writing, and many other painted papers that became broadsides. Then, not quite knowing what to do next, I let the pages rest in my flat files for a year.
The next summer, I signed up for the annual calligraphy conference, but this time chose a class devoted to book page design taught by Suzanne Moore. One of the pre-class assignments was to invent an alphabet. The long version about my discoveries is on this page in the Library, but suffice to say, I devised an alphabet based on ancient symbols that I began calling the “goddess alphabet” with the idea of using it with this text. I worked on the page design during those few days with Suzanne, then came home and wrote out the pages of the book using the goddess glyphs and a contemporary italic alphabet as the gloss.
The spine decorations added to the tactile experience of holding the book open in the hand, lightly weighted with ribbons, amulets, beads and charms. I created the kind of book I would like to hold in ceremony. I excerpted sections from the full “Charge of the Goddess,” as written by Doreen Valiente in England the 1950s, soon after the medieval witchcraft laws were finally repealed there. She adapted it from an old Italian text collected by the folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland in northern Italy and published as Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. There are many other sources and variations of this invocation. The version I used was popularized in the United States by Starhawk and the Reclaiming Collective.
Of course I made tests and trials of pigments on an extra folio of the painted paper, noting which paints were used and how the layers of color and lettering looked. This spare page has floated around my studio for the last ten years as a kind of talisman, reminding me of those two charmed summers I set myself the task of making a sacred book, as I conceived it to be at that time.
A few years later I was invited to send work to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design by curator Leslie Fedorchuk, for an exhibit called “Sacred Texts, Contemporary Forms.” My three entries were to represent the earthwise path, and the original Wheel of the Year hanging mandala, the original of The First Writing book, and this Charge of the Goddess book were sent. Much to my surprise and delight, they featured the “Soul of Nature” page spread from The Charge of the Goddess on the exhibit poster. This piece says, using the goddess glyphs entirely, “I am the soul of nature that gives life to the universe / From Me all things proceed and unto Me they must return.”
Making this book planted seeds for many that came after it. Blessed be.