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Here in Sir W. Russell Flint's famous painting, Morgan scandalises a nun with her magic.

Here in Sir W. Russell Flint’s famous painting, Morgan scandalises a nun with her magic.

I’m doing something I don’t usually do today – I’m reblogging someone else’s post because it really inspired me to think of my own writing process, and the way that I think about characters and what makes them engaging.

That person is the lovely Karen Gordon, and in her post on The Quiet Ones, copied in below (in which she same some rather nice things about me, though that’s not (wholly) why I am reblogging this here) she talks about the quiet strength of the nuns she grew up with having inspired her.

Weirdly enough, I also spend a lot of time thinking about nuns. Hear me out, here – in the medieval world, many women who were strong, independent and wanted an education would turn to the abbeys in order to find that. If you didn’t want to be married off or to be passed around as a player in a political game (which some women certainly did want to do, and which they harnessed to their own advantage) the abbeys were another sphere in which a bright, ambitious woman could attain some small degree of power, and a potentially larger degree of influence.

But nuns were also held in ambiguous regard in the middle ages; not quite as detached from the world as monks, because the female body was always somewhat a site of worldly sin. Also, they embodied the danger of the educated woman. Malory’s Morgan le Fay is explicitly made into a witch by the over-abundance of education – he says “And the third sister Morgan le Fay was put to school in a nunnery, and there she learned so much that she was a great clerk of necromancy”. A woman who knows too much is, by definition, a witch, and a nun shades dangerously close to that. The closeness of abbey life, education, reading and empowerment to the dangers of black magic was something that I was keen to convey in my own Morgan series and the potential for power in a quiet, reflective character something that Karen’s wonderful post made me reflect on more fully.

Now I’m off to read some more – it’s too late for me. I’m already a witch.

***

Read Karen’s full post here:

I’ve always admired quiet strength–people who wield power in a way that is so subtle the source can go undetected or overlooked. It helps if these power players can hide behind a blustery front man, someone who draws all the attention, usually because they believe they’re in charge (must be yelled, while pounding on a table).

For me it all started with the nuns. In the early 1970’s I went to an all-girl, Catholic school that was run entirely by an order of nuns. Women’s lib was all over the news at the time–images of women protesting, burning their bras, joining the work force (and showing up in pants suits! gasp) The nuns didn’t protest loudly, some opted out of wearing habits, but they did so with little fanfare. On the surface they seemed almost cloistered from the changing times, but I can tell you they were revolutionaries, making huge strides for the cause of equality for women. They had a school full of females, potential future leaders in their eyes and they led by example. They ran the place, with no priest or male influence in sight. Our principal, Sr. Steppe, was a pillar of a woman who could intimidate at the Leona Helmsley level but also possessed a wicked sense of humor and a truly kind heart, which she shared with me more than once when I was (insert terror soundtrack) sent to the principal’s office for failing grades.

In general, worldwide, nuns have kept a low profile. So low that the ruling Church patriarchy ignored them, figuring them meek and weak. Ha!

For decades they used the fact that they were on the front lines for the Church, much more involved with the communities they lived and worked in than the priests, to build up the parishioners and students. They not only promoted equality to the millions of Catholic girls they taught, they also promoted acceptance for gays. In 2012 the Vatican finally paid them some attention–the angry kind, accusing them of radical feminism and undermining the Church’s teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality (AP, May 6, 2014). I’m proud to say that these women who gave me my first taste of the power of quiet strength haven’t backed down. (You go girls!!!)

Fast forward to 2014. I read a fantastic series about the King Arthur legend as told from the perspective of Guinevere. Not only did the author, Lavinia Collins, create a wonderfully-complex queen in Guinevere, she introduced me to Nimue. I love Nimue, the quiet, sweet young woman who tricks the master magician, Merlin and plays puppet master to knights and a king. Her quiet power reminded me of the nuns, of women who are overlooked and written off as having no chance of being a threat. Women who are smart enough use this to their advantage.

I’ve distilled this energy and poured the nuns and Guinevere and Nimue into the heroine of my work-in-progress, Vivienne. I’m currently writing the second book in the series where she meets her first blustery men in charge and figures out how to gain power then wield it. She’s still young at this point and like a sorcerer’s apprentice she is discovering her powers; powers she will hone and refine to create the life she wants.

Do you know of a Quiet One, someone who wields stealth power? Comment below and share their (or your) story. If you would like to support Catholic nuns in their stand against the Vatican, you can find information on The Nun Justice Project here. If you do follow up on their story, get ready to be wowed by some very wise, very strong little old ladies.

Source: The Quiet Ones

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