Red Hen Press
87  pages
$17.95 paperback

ISBN: 978-1-59709-161-9

Cover Art: The birth of the Universe by Beverly Cassell
Book Layout: Sydney Nichols



Annie Finch’s “Among the Goddesses: An Epic Libretto in Seven Dreams,” delivers a forceful tale of abortion, fraught with classic tension.  Here, human will brazens out fate and mingles with goddesses. Here, an archetypal woman faces a decision as old as humanity.

In most mythic tales, when humans decry their fate and mingle with divinities, suffering ensues. This drama is no exception.

Lily, the protagonist, after being raped, cannot bring herself to love the life growing inside her. She perceives the life as something that is not hers.  Intensely willful, she says several times with force:

  I’d been invaded; the baby was not mine.
Why should I carry it?

Helped by the goddess, Diana, Lily visits the goddess Demeter who counsels Lily to go to the home of the Hindu war-goddess, Kali, to abort the child.

At first Kali shuts the door of her home on Lily, but Lily insists, her persistence an indication that she is not blindly following the advice of the goddesses, but acting of her own free will. The goddess Kali ultimately opens the door and gives Lily an abortive mixture to induce termination of the pregnancy.   

Lily then enters a room where, for three days, she confronts the consequences of her decision. She is conscious of the life inside her body and experiences it’s gradual death. During this time,  goddesses are portrayed as statues in the room, watching.

Both the haunting chorus (called the Kouretes), and the interwoven epic narrative, describe the statue goddesses:

  dozens watching her with eyes,
squatting goddesses, with children or alone,
alabaster, or dark burned stone,
mouths sometimes open, sometimes in pain,
chipped out hollows shadowing distance,
inset eyes of turquoise staring

For a while, the only life experienced in the room is Lily and the life inside her body. Then, guided by the goddess, Inanna, Lily has a vision of Ereshkigal: a “terrible Queen,”  a murderer, who puts her hand on Lily’s belly.  Lily feels the life inside her die. Here, at the climax of the drama, the reader encounters a powerful combination of epic narrative, dramatic dialogue, and chorus.

Lily: (rising):
    as death moved through me, and I took a life

as my pregnancy shrank and contracted.

    as death moved through her, and she took a life

Inanna had taken me to the vision,
and she held me there till it was over.

    as death moved through her, and she took a life

as my pregnancy shrank and contracted.
Inanna had taken me to the vision,
and she held me there till it was over,
under Ereshkigal’s hand  They all saw me
as death moved through me, and I took a life,

The drama offers several dichotomies.  First, although the “terrible Queen,” called "a murderer" puts her hand on Lily’s belly, the abortion is not resolved ultimately as an act of the goddesses, but as Lily’s deed. The chorus, Kali, and Lily all acknowledge that it was Lily, herself, who took the life. Of her own free will she visited Kali's house and insisted upon entrance. Second, the drama offers a dichotomy of life and death, particularly during the three days that Lily spends in the dark room. Third, the drama provides two fonts: a sans serif font, for an epic narrative (written years before the play and interlaced with an opera libretto) and a serif font for the drama. The combination of epic narrative and drama provides both a story that functions cerebrally, and a drama that enacts life.

In the denouement of this play, Lily seeks healing and eventually gains it. Later, she gives birth to another child and calls her Eve, an archetype of beginnings.

This drama is powerful and classic. It brings the highly controversial issue of abortion to an archetypal, mythic level, raising questions of fate, free will and divine intervention. In ancient Greek tales fathers consume their children, mothers kill their sons, and children kill their parents. Humans question their fate and seek the intervention of the gods and goddesses. The classic format, then, is  suited for a consideration of abortion. The play raises important questions about fate, free will and divine intervention.

Reviewed by Mary Ann Sullivan
    January 2013