As usual with Darkover/MZB content, this is your warning! If you do not want to read about it, please scroll on by, however you are finding this post.
I did not want to address the Oath first. I really and truly wanted to work on laying a foundation for all the stuff I have to break open during my analysis of Thendara House, as well as the sisterhood I’m trying to build for women in the SCA. Yet with it being right there at the beginning of my copy, maybe that’s the part we were meant to begin with. So if we were meant to begin there — at least coming to this after The Shattered Chain, so much of which is relevant but I have no copy — then I suppose I’ll begin there and that way I can refer back if need be.
To begin with, I’ll tell you about the edition of TH that I’ll be working from. It’s the first printing of the DAW paperback edition, September 1983, if the inside cover is to be believed. It has a portrait of Jaelle in Terran black and blues, and Magda in some kind of tartan skirt? Tunic? Orange shawl over top, what is essentially a shortsword in her hands. Note that she has one whole hand wrapped around what should be a sharp bit, which no one who had ever used a sword twice would do. Someone who’d only used one once? Maaaaybe. But they’d learn. This must be high noon on Darkover, as the sky’s full-on yellow. High summer if they’re outside in so little clothing.
So with the shiny new awareness that I rescued what might be a first paperback edition from someone’s bookshelf, literally the first thing I see is THE OATH OF THE FREE AMAZONS and a lot of text. Usually this space is reserved for a significant excerpt from a text, a taster. If the Oath is here, I’m meant to know about it.
This Oath was written by Walter Breen himself. I do not yet understand why MZB outsourced the writing of the Renunciate Oath to a man. Especially that man. But a man. What’s that about us doing for ourselves?
From this day first, I renounce the right to marry save as a freemate. No man shall bind me di catenas and I will dwell in no man’s household as a barragana.
This is easy enough for any modern woman to fulfill. Marriage di catenas is supposed to be unbreakable, though we’ll see Keitha leaving such a marriage due to abuse. She had to go to the Renunciates to be free of him. That’s like getting the Pope to magically undo your marriage, which is about what it would take. So, since we don’t marry di catenas, all we need to know about it is that it is meant ’til death, and the parties involved wear catenas, bracelets/cuffs/shackles. Someone deep in Darkovan history evidently took “leg-shackling” literally and up the body further.
What’s a barragana? This book doesn’t address it, but she’s basically a sister-wife with benefits. I think her offspring are legitimized? That may even be one of the reasons to add such a woman. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that the first woman needs neither like nor consent to this woman’s appearance. It’s a nasty sort of crime against another woman, when you become a barragana without being certain the wife is okay. You’re aiding and abetting the husband in socially-sanctioned cheating. Since that is never a nice thing to do, I’m going to say that if I’m building a sisterhood for modern, Earthly times, this is important to remember, but may not be worth specifically codifying in any sworn oath. Bylaws are another story.
I swear that I am prepared to defend myself by force if I am attacked by force, and that I shall turn to no man for protection.
While this may be Darkover-relevant, where they can and will train women to defend themselves as a matter of initiation, on Earth no such training can or ought to be mandated. For one thing, you cannot guarantee that “self-defense” will be the default mode when attacked. Women who’ve been trained in krav maga are still prone to the same psychological pitfalls as women with no training. Until you’re in that situation for real, you cannot know how you’ll react. Further limiting women by telling us that if we do freeze up, we can’t shout for help unless women come running? “A Renunciate cannot be raped” because I guess if she can’t stab her attacker, she can still commit an honorable suicide. This is BS to the nth degree and I will not stand for it. You turn to whoever can help you, man, woman, both, or neither! Survival is the best revenge, Breen! That’s what I’m building into my own sisterhood: that it is not only right, but good to bridge the gender gap. To retreat into our corners when we need, but to come together for the best for society.
From this day forth I swear I shall never again be known by the name of any man, be he father, guardian, lover or husband, but simply or solely as the daughter of my mother.
While I have no personal issues with this, I cannot imagine Moira n’ha Marion being remotely okay. Some people, you will be amazed to find, can need to renounce a lot of society’s misconceptions about women and still be fine with the men in their lives — the carefully-chosen, carefully-vetted men. Also, the necessity to get on in our society dictates that we probably want to pick our own names, but they have to be relatively ordinary. Women of any culture but WASP already cop enough crap for their “weird names”. This is where the work of a good onomast comes in. I can point you to names that were never patronyms! Heritable though they be, they are not “son/daughter of XY”.
Also worth pointing out: in some cultures today, you must choose a patronym/metronym formation in order to get on in society. But these are cultures with ties to that name pattern that reach back through their entire history, where such names were the most common by far.
From this day forth I swear I will bear no child to any man save for my own pleasure and at my own time and choice; I will bear no child to any man for house or heritage, clan or inheritance, pride of posterity; I swear that I alone will determine rearing and fosterage of any child I bear, without regard to any man’s place, position, or pride.
Setting aside the father’s right in his child for a second, at least once it’s born…
Jaelle’s going to do a lot of worrying about this one that she doesn’t have to do. The fine print is important: bear no child to any man. Where Peter is concerned, she is done. She doesn’t care about furthering his bloodline. But the Aillard bloodline is a legitimate concern for her. Rohana is very right there. If she bears a child for a clan specifically continued through its women, she is neatly skipping over to any man. If she’s bearing children to anyone, it’s other Aillard women. Someday her baby brother will have to answer to them. Talk about disregard to a man’s place, position, or pride.
As to determining the rearing and fosterage of your child — the Renunciates don’t actually permit this. If you want to mother your son, you have to leave the Guild House. It hasn’t yet crossed their minds that a raft of Renunciate women rearing Renunciate sons could be a good thing for social change but hey! It literally is not Earth logic.
From this day forth I renounce allegiance to any family, clan, household, warden or liege lord, and take oath that I owe allegiance only to the laws of the land as a free citizen must; to the kingdom, the crown and the Gods.
There is, somewhere, an oath of fealty that reads “We’ll do our bit if you do yours.” That is the oath of a truly free citizen: the upholding of the social contract. I’ll get into this more when I trip over the line in the book. For now, suffice to say that multiple allegiances don’t have to conflict. People with dual nationality do fine. Atheists don’t feel the lack of allegiance to the Gods. You can be loyal to your country without respecting its leader (as half of America complains on the regular). I love my SCA household. I love my kin-by-choice. I love my kin-by-blood. None of these cancel out the others, except if someone tries to make me choose.
I owe none of them allegiance. I give it because I am free to do so.
I shall appeal to no man as of right, for protection, support, or succor: but shall owe allegiance only to my oath-mother, to my sisters in the Guild and to my employer for the season of my employment.
Fine. Don’t owe him allegiance because he’s a man. Owe him allegiance because he’s worth it. Turn to him because he’s a good human being. Feminism in 19-whenever Breen wrote the Oath (it does predate the Renunciate trilogy) looked well different from today’s feminism. Your oath-mother could turn out to be a terrible person, just like your real mother. You shouldn’t be bound to people who turn out to be a poor fit. And for crap’s sake, given the way many employers treat people, see previous on “We’ll do our bit if you’ll do yours.”
And I further swear that the members of the Guild of Free Amazons shall be to me, each and every one, as my mother, my sister or my daughter, born of one blood with me, and that no woman sealed by the Oath to the Guild shall appeal to me in vain.
How about no woman, period, shall appeal to me in vain? Because if you turn away all those women who don’t agree with you but could really use a way out, are you not missing an opportunity to teach? And do you want to flood any group with people who are only in it because they need help? I won’t swear any woman to any sisterhood I begin unless she is there by her own will. We help women regardless of membership; otherwise the point is utterly lost. Incestuous implications aside, Lord help the group that demands all of the above before you can find safety in a brutal society. I prefer my succor to come with no strings attached, only a plea that you think over the difference you could make.
From this moment, I swear to obey all the laws of the Guild of Free Amazons and any lawful command of my oath-mother, the Guild members or my elected leader for the season of my employment. And if I betray any secret of the Guild, or prove false to my oath, then I shall submit myself to the Guild-mothers for such discipline as they shall choose; and if I fail, then may every woman’s hand turn against me, let them slay me like an animal and consign my body unburied to corruption and my soul to the mercy of the Goddess.
What public health concerns?
— snark aside, whoa, how do you know you can trust these people? You’ve got to have an out. You’ve got to be allowed to decide whether you are okay with what your Guild is asking of you. If you are not, there’s gotta be a way to say “Look, I love you, but I can’t do that.” If you’re false to yourself in the pursuit of fidelity to a group, you may just have joined a cult. An ethical organization won’t ask that of you. Not in this day and age.
So if I’m to build something up that serves a similar purpose in modern society, I have to keep all this in mind. All these quibbles, all these pitfalls, all the apologia I might have written (I have to find it and tag it). I have to learn from who I’ve become. I can see how your average woman might have found this Oath a little intimidating, that she would only have taken it in extremis. I can see why Keitha waited until her husband almost killed her. I see why every Renunciate has a story, and every story is a tragedy. It would have to be, to live under rules as stringent as those of the society you just renounced.
I can’t make the same mistake. There will be no renouncing. There will be camaraderie. There will be freedom. We’re not going to damn anyone’s soul because they screwed up.