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Research time

I have promised myself not to waste toooo much time on this, but I'm in search of vocabulary.

It frustrates me to no end that there's no solid vocabulary in the general knowledge pool for female power structures.

ETA: Check this out: at thesaurus.com, I plugged in priestess, and here's what it told me:

"No entry found for priestess.
Did you mean priest?"

No, dammit, I didn't.

And I need that vocabulary. In thinking about other fiction that uses matriarchal or egalitarian power structure, authors seem to go with the standard Sisterhood or else to make up their own vocabulary. For a variety of reasons, I'd rather *not* make up my own vocabulary, but instead find the right words for it in our history, or at the very least, create words from association with related entities in our history/myth structure.

Googling isn't getting me very far (well, at least not productively -- I've found gobs and gobs of fascinating stuff, esp. including this: http://www.suppressedhistories.net/ I am considering "matrix" as a base term...).

Influences in the world structure I'm building include Voudun, Egyptian, and Atlantis myths. The timeframe is distant future post-apocalyptic earth. Louisiana, to be very exact for this story, though there are similar population nodes elsewhere.

If I can't find the right vocabulary out there somewhere, I will likely turn to mathematics/geometry for names and titles of things. But I'm wide open for vocabulary suggestions, and very interested in any linkage to articles on ancient (or modern, really) feminine power structures.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 8th, 2005 12:17 am (UTC)
Hmmm. I need nouns. Words to call women who aren't priestesses but fill that role, sort of. Words to call their groups, groups of women in charge (like, what did the Amazons call their leaders/council/etc.?). Their central building/shelter needs a name -- not a church, not a temple...

Make better sense?
Nov. 8th, 2005 12:32 am (UTC)
If you like, I can ask my Anthro instructor; she might have an idea of some culture or something? I know Marian Zimmer Bradley wrote of cultures with women as leaders, but I don't know off hand and its been ages since I read her stuff.
Nov. 8th, 2005 12:37 am (UTC)
If it's convenient, go for it. MZB's choices in this arena are pretty much what I'm trying to avoid. I may be unsuccessful ;-). I want it to be more...organic to the setting and mythology. The geometry thing might actually be the right answer. But you'd *think* that somewhere in history/the world there would be a reasonably well documented female power structure, you know?
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 8th, 2005 04:03 pm (UTC)
Well, those are the names I'm using right now, so that I keep writing. But they're *wrong*. So, it bothers me. I'll figure it out, eventually. But it seems to me that, somewhere in time, there's been a female power structure that has names of things that suit better. I'm just not exposed to them, or at least that's the theory. Maybe someday I'll be able to explain why I'm *so* bothered by this. In the meantime, you're right that the generic terms work pretty well. They just don't hit the mark I'm looking for.
Nov. 8th, 2005 03:53 am (UTC)
You might want to look at other fiction -- specifically, at the sub-genre of feminist science fiction novels that feature female-only societies. I'm not sure if they have the applicable vocabulary, but Joanna Russ's The Female Man and James Tiptree Jr.'s Houston, Houston, Do You Read? have the advantage of actually being good. The gender-neutral terms in Ursula K. LeGuin's work, especially The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, might help you too.
Nov. 8th, 2005 04:09 am (UTC)
Okay, a few thoughts. If you haven't come across the term yet, a Vodoun priestesses is referred to as a mambo. And, some priestesses in ancient Greece were referred to as Sibyls, a word derived from the Greek word for "prophetess." Then, of course, we have the Vestals, the virgin priestesses of ancient Rome who were dedicated to the worship of Vesta, goddess of hearth and home (I think). By now, I think everyone in the Buffyverse/Angelverse fandom knows that our English word "Witch" is derived from "Wiccan" or "wise one." I've come across "gytha" as a term for Norse priestesses, but that's not my field of expertise and you may want to research.

If you are looking for the term for the topmost functionary of a particular deity, that term is usually, and simply, the high priest or high priestess. Nuns are not priests, but we do have the chief female of Christian religious orders as being either Mother, Mother Superior, or Abbess, Mother Abbess. As an aside, if you are familiar with the story of "Pope Joan," she was referred to in some texts as the "Popess Joan" which was, obviously, simply a feminization of the word Pope (and used disparagingly, at that.)

Now, from what I remember of Egypt, Pharaoh was not simply "king" but the God Incarnate, and if I remember, he was Horus when alive, Osiris when dead. Hat-shep-sut really pissed off the priesthood by claiming to be not only a ruling Queen (not the first Egypt ever had,either) but Pharaoh, and, of course, divine.

For the record, Egypt was matrilineal (descent was through the mother) but not matriarchal (women were not in power). This is why Pharaoh was always married to his sister, though she may not have been his chief wife.

Celtic society was very egalitarian. According to Tacitus, Celtic women wouldn't marry a man who couldn't defeat them in battle. If you are looking for warrior women, then in addition to the Amazons of classic mythology, you also have the Shield Mays of Viking tradition.

Huh. Think I may have gone off track, there. The thing is, I'm not sure language has what you're looking for. English simply feminizes masculine nouns when they apply to women (author, authoress, aviator, aviatrix, actor, actress) or, the term applies to both (writer, dancer, singer, artist, painter...) Other than such terms as acolyte, devotee, celebrant, which can refer to either sex, not sure that there's much to find in the language.

Hope the above is somewhat helpful. Maybe some other posters have more info.
Nov. 8th, 2005 04:07 pm (UTC)
It is somewhat helpful, yes indeed. I am fairly certain you're right about English not having what I need in it, but I'm thinking possibly that another language/culture does. And if something doesn't turn up, then mathematics/science probably offer me some options that won't throw readers off, but will satisfy my need to avoid inaccuracy or loading. The thing is, all of this hasn't got much to do with the story itself, but thematically and backstory wise, it's important that I get it right. What the people do in the story has to make sense, and that ties to who they are and what their roles in the culture are.

Thanks heaps, Margot!
Nov. 8th, 2005 06:35 am (UTC)
In my imaginary country, I gender-role professions. Males are Sailors, Hunters, Scouts, but women are Marketers, Weavers, and Farmers. I make assumptions that I hope the reader (in the imaginary future of publication) will eventually catch on to. Choose a language, or a linguistic key, that works for you and let it write itself into the language of the world. You don't have time to rewrite English: pick what feels right, and change when you come up with something better. What is most important is the writing, you're not chiseling it in stone, you *can* edit, later.

Nov. 8th, 2005 04:10 pm (UTC)

Worry not -- I am writing straight through this. I *do* need to replace these terms and get them right at some point, but it doesn't have to be now. The cognitive dissonance I'm experiencing, though, is heavy duty. It just...I think that damne thesaurus really pissed me off.

I don't know if I can pull off creating my own language, exactly, but if I think about where these people came from and how they came to be where they are, doing what they are, I may be able to key off of the science they don't know they're doing for my words. Way back when, they'd have had a scienific vocabulary, and their mathematics would have to be strong, if intuitive rather than explicit.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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