the laws have changed

Having taken a look at what I think of the Renunciate Oath, I need to examine what the reprehensible Breen made of it and how a fan adapted it. These bookend the short story collection Free Amazons of Darkover, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley and written by many of “the Friends of Darkover”.

This has a copyright of 1985, one year after what I think of as the utterly unnecessary City of Sorcery (in which the author hammers home her preferred pairing for Magda, the one that creeps me out). I don’t know what was happening Breendoggle-wise at this point, so I beg your forgiveness there; life kind of got in the way of that lofty goal.


Breen’s take first. Originally written in 1979, it is presented as “a refutation” of the idea that Renunciates are man-hating radical feminists, as one fan suggested following the publication of The Shattered Chain. Um. Okay. I’m not sure why the text wasn’t permitted to speak for itself in that regard; Magda and Peter were over anyway, Peter married Jaelle, some fan got all butthurt, look, authors make decisions you’re not going to like. Believe me, I know this all too well. JK Rowling, I’m lookin’ at you. But a man had to prove that this wasn’t radically anti-man, of course, so enter Breen.

From this day forth, 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.

Here, Breen interprets the renunciation of the right to marry di catenas as a renunciation of family ties, owing to the arrangement of marriages and mutual duties between children and parents. If that’s truly what refusing to marry di catenas means in Darkovan culture, then okay, I’ll take it. Refusal to be a barragana supposedly balances the statement, going from “the most prestigious to the least prestigious (save prostitution)”. These were not an enlightened lot when it came to sex work, I see. Shacking up good, sex work bad. You could give it for free on the basis of “mutual promises” (answerable to what authority?) but you weren’t allowed to sell it.

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.

Apparently this one applies only to family. Huh. As if men aren’t obliged to protect anyone but their own kin? So much for honor. Noting here that the idea of protection extends to basic survival. She’s out in the cold.

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.

Which is touted as the ultimate relationship. Again: Moira. The version in this book explicates the naming pattern: (given name) nikhya mic (mother’s given name). n’ha is a contraction of this. Long sigh as I realize neither Bradley nor Breen bothered to ask a herald about Celtic naming patterns. Maybe in 1985 sources were insufficient — still. This bothers me as an onomast. nikhya mic is roughly analogous to inghean mhic and that is never a reference to one’s mother. Actually, it denotes that the person is the daughter of a clan. mhic is the possessive of mac. Here, read more about it.

The version set out in the beginning of Thendara House omits the following:

From this day forth: I swear I will give myself to no man save in my own time and season and of my own free will, at my own desire; I will never earn my bread as the object of any man’s lust.

So you’ve got to have your own income in a freemate marriage. Because it is shockingly hard to disentangle sex from obligation in marriage as it stands. Can a woman say no if a man decides it’s sex or get out? Survival sex is a thing, a hard reality. Better she be able to set herself up in business and choose when she gives herself! What if her free will and desire is to make money from sex? What then?

And Breen takes it further than I’d interpret: you can’t even show your legs or your face for cash. You’re no better than a prostitute if you’re dressed as a Terran. That, that grosses me out. That’s not radical feminism. That’s not feminism at all. Breen’s Darkover — the Darkover Bradley agreed to write when she asked for his help — is decidedly anti-feminist, even among the Renunciates. Or does she not realize that Renunciates in britches aren’t that different-looking from Terrans in same? I’m not going to take a picture of a Renunciate in a snowstorm as representative, as on my version’s cover. No, show me a Renunciate at midsummer.

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.

“Renouncing the prime purpose of all forms of marriage on Darkover.”

I knew they were baby-mad. I didn’t know the infertile were second-class citizens. I’m only being a little sarcastic here. If she’s not well enough to breed, is she good enough to wed even as a freemate? Consider Callista once of Arilinn and her distaste for childbearing, though she does it anyhow. If not for Ellemir loving the babies that came forth, would she do it? Would she do it out of obligation to Andrew — who, coming from Earth, had some serious culture shock over some of this stuff?

God, am I glad I live here.

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.

This part declares her not an outlaw. Because men are usually the only free citizens. No wonder that fan was butthurt. These are the closest to feminists Darkover will get.

There’s nothing terribly controversial in the rest of Breen’s interpretation. It sets itself out pretty baldly. Let’s take a look at the very interesting version by Jaida n’ha Sandra…


This version of the Oath is titled “The Oath of the Free Amazons: Terra, Techno Period”. In the background blurb, Jaida is presented as one of Bradley’s household who changed her name from Kim and looks like one of Bradley’s characters.

A sideline on household choice: when you make your family-by-choice, you should be choosing them freely, not because you’re in the right place in the right time and they’re offering. I hope Jaida found an equal place, as I’ve found in my own family-by-choice, and whatever obligations she bears, she bears them of her own free will. Like a Renunciate. I hope her story wasn’t a tragedy.

From this day forth I renounce the right to marry save as a freemate.

Well, you can’t marry di catenas on Earth.

No man shall own me and I shall dwell in no man’s house as his mistress. Nor shall I hold or keep any man against his will.

This is the problem. This right here. Because if he isn’t obliged to stay, and neither are you, how can you hope to build a marriage? If you have no obligations to each other, you might as well never marry. But if you are obliged, if there’s more than will binding you, there’s a reason to work through your problems. There’s a reason to treat each other well and respect each other through the tough times.

I swear that I am prepared to defend myself if I am attacked by force, and that I shall turn to no man for protection.

I say this a lot: you’d better hope the police you call, or the friends you’re with, are all women.

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 and solely as the daughter of my mother.

No matter what Mommie Dearest did.

From this day forth I swear I will give myself to no man, save in my own time and season and of my own free will, at my own desire; I will never earn my bread as the object of any man’s lust; neither will I use my sexuality to manipulate or trap any human being.

This is MRA stuff. Women are temptresses, men have to save themselves from the evil vag. Do men swear never to do that to women?

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 or posterity, I swear that I alone will determine rearing or fosterage of any child I bear, without regard to any man’s place, position or pride, yet responsibly considering the love and need for fatherhood that a man may have.

This had better exclude your own rapist. Oh, right: a Renunciate can’t be raped. Except in “Terra, Techno Period”, anyone can be raped. We don’t carry weapons here. We can easily be knocked unconscious by force or by drugs. What are we supposed to do, commit suicide if we find we’ve been violated?

From this day forth I renounce allegiance to any family, household or church which exacts unquestioning obedience from its members

Look closely at your own situation, Jaida.

and take oath that where my conscience dictates, I will strive to change those laws which threaten or harm too great a number of living beings.

A Renunciate is an activist. At least it doesn’t set out how she’s gotta do it. At least she’s the keeper of her own conscience. I note that it doesn’t mention the enforcement of existing laws, Walter and Marion.

I shall appeal to no man as of right, for protection, support or succor: but shall owe allegiance only to my oath-mother

Marion again, I’d guess.

to my proven friends, and to my employer for the season of my employment.

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 no woman who seeks my help with sincerity shall appeal to me in vain.

I like the last bit. I also find that just as I’d call out any kinswoman for misdeeds, I can do so under this Oath.

From this moment, I swear to obey only the laws of my conscience and the Spirit, and any lawful command, of my oath-mother, my true teachers, and my elected leader for the season of my employment.

I don’t. I didn’t elect him.

I shall allow no man to pass judgment upon me

But other women are A-OK.

or determine the path which my life takes. And just as I will be ever vigilant in renouncing all attempts to control me or take power from me, so also will I seek always to be straightforward and honorable in my dealings with all other beings. If I prove false to my oath, then I shall submit myself to the teachers in my life

Regardless of gender?

for such discipline as they shall choose; and if I fail, then may every woman’s hand turn against me, and may I be brave in the ultimate judgment and mercy of the Goddess.

I hope the discipline is chosen well. That’s all I can say to that. If it clashes with “lawful command”, I hope people use good judgment.


So that’s the pair of ’em, each with their own problems to sort out, each perhaps very specific to time and place. Bookends. Literally bookends. Go! Think! Devise your own Oaths to swear between yourselves and your personal oath-mothers and (if you have them) oath-fathers. Sometime soon I’d like to begin that deeper reading of Thendara House. Not now; it’d throw me out of my own writing rhythm. But soon. Maybe for my 31st birthday.

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