Elizabeth Cunningham

Author of The Maeve Chronicles

“Just like the Eve I hadn’t heard of yet, I saw that I was naked. Shame I hadn’t yet grasped.” -Maeve from Magdalen Rising

Elizabeth posted that quotation on Twitter this morning. (Yes, speaking of shamelessness, we are on twitter. Follow us: http://twitter.com/EliznMaeve How shameless is that?)

I have been asked to write a blog about shamelessness. I suppose scenes like the one cited above have earned me a reputation as an expert on the subject. For those who haven’t read Magdalen Rising, this incident happened when I was about fourteen years old, away from home for the first time, having my period and missing my eight mothers. My mothers always went to the beach and fingerpainted on the rocks when they were bleeding. At druid school, I was shocked to discover, there were no organized activities for that time of the moon. Feeling a bit blue, I went off by myself, stripped off my tunic (it was a hot day) and practiced writing ogham, the druid ceremonial letters I was studying. I inscribed the name of the boy I liked on a rock. Well, what would you have done if you were me? You wouldn’t have thought of writing your crush’s name in menstrual blood?

Neither would Viviane, a stuck-up girl in my class, who tried to shame me for it. I showed her. I dipped my fingers into the original ink well and hauled off and anointed her, so to speak, right across the face. She didn’t appreciate the honor, and we got into a bloody brawl, literally. Guess who ended up coming along to break up the fight? My crush, Esus. You know him as Jesus. Can you imagine his horror at this unclean naked girl writing his name on a rock with her blood? Please! (How he could possibly end up with someone like me is also a requested blog topic. Next time perhaps.) Many editors and reviewers were also shocked, and Elizabeth was told to omit all scenes having to do with bodily functions. She refused. She is not as shameless I am, but she is stubborn.

By the way, my next two volumes have very little about any bodily function–apart from sex. Elizabeth fretted that she had been influenced by the critics. But really, it’s just that I grew older. In Magdalen Rising, I am a young girl, and everything is new to me. The truth is, until Viviane no one even attempted to shame me about my body or its functions, and she did not succeed. I kept that ease and comfort with my body all my life.

But many people do feel ashamed not only of their bodily functions but of their bodies, which tells you something about shame. We often feel shamed, or are shamed by others, for things that are out of our control. Shamed not so much for what we do (actions are at least somewhat in our control) but for what we are. We are too short, tall, have ears that stick out, have a big behind. We are not smart enough, quick enough, pretty enough, rich enough. There is something inherently wrong, and we feel shame.

Then there is also shame that we carry for someone else. That shame is even more insideous, because it’s harder to identify. I once met a man who trained his dog to writhe and wimper in shame every time that man passed gas. It was supposed to be a joke, but it’s not so funny when you consider that many of us are that dog. That’s how abuse works, any kind of abuse from sexual abuse to economic abuse. The victim carries the abuser’s shame. So shamelessness is not necessarily a good thing, not if someone else is carrying the shame that should yours. If you make a foul smell, people, own it!

I had no shame about my menstrual blood and no shame about sex, having been reared on my mothers’ tales of Queen Maeve of Connacht, who delighted in freely offering the friendship of her upper thighs, who boasted that she was “never without one man in the shadow of another.” She also had a devoted husband and lover, and no one called her promiscuous. This upbringing stood me in good stead during the years I was a whore. I felt no shame in being a whore and took some pride in being a skilled one. What did shame me deeply was being a slave, for my people considered loss of freedom shameful. They blamed the victim. Being a slave was not something I chose; it was not something I did. There was no way I could make amends for it. Though I tried to escape, I failed and my shame deepened into despair which fed the shame. There are many people who are suffering in just this way today whether or not they are called slaves.

So I do know something about shame. Freedom came to me by fluke. I was on my way to being crucified when the very woman who got me into the fix and who had enslaved and abused me for years, finally faced her own shame, her own culpabilty and pleaded with a woman who justifiably despised her in order to save my life. Read The Passion of Mary Magdalen if you want to know more.

Finally, that boy, my crush? He became my beloved. You know who he is. He was sentenced to a death that was designed to shame as well as torture. What is more shaming than to be hung naked and completely helpless while slowly dying in front of anyone who wants to watch? Yet I am here to tell you, he was not ashamed. All that shame that was cast on him, he burned away, as if he were the sun. I am witness.

Burning with shame. That’s what we say. That’s what it feels like. And that’s just what to do with shame. Burn it up. The problems come when we are so afraid of that burning that we bury shame (and carry it as depression) or try to escape it through some addictive behavior that casts us back into shame or we dump it on someone else. So I say, if you are burning, burn. If you can stand it, the shame will burn away and leave you shining, radiant, and righteously shameless.

5 Responses

  1. putting that shame in a dark place keeps it away from that bright burning sun…

    it seems when we speak of our shame – in a way that honours our self – then the bright sun can do it's burning work…

    i loved that part in Magdalen rising where you talk about painting with your moon blood Maeve, it was so free and honouring and so apart from what we do with our precious flow as 21st century women (flush it away with the shit….)

    Shameless takes on a very appealing ring!

  2. Oh Maeve, you have given us such ringing words of encouragement! Shame is a poison and you are the antidote. Thank you, thank you for your rich wisdom and for being such a gloriously shameless hussy. We wouldn't want you to be anything less than what and who you are. May we all take your words to heart–and to any other body part that might be afflicted.