Marissa Bell Toffoli

Interview With Writer Brian Griffith

In books, history, nonfiction, writing on April 4, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Brian Griffith

Brian Griffith. Photo courtesy of Brian Griffith.

An introduction to author and independent historian Brian Griffith, whose new book titled A Galaxy of Immortal Women (Exterminating Angel Press, 2012) ties mythology, archaeology, history, religion, folklore, literature, and journalism into a millennia-spanning story about how Chinese women—and their goddess traditions—fostered a counterculture that flourishes and grows stronger every day. Griffith’s previous books are The Gardens of Their Dreams: Desertification and Culture in World History, Different Visions of Love: Partnership and Dominator Values in Christian History, and Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story.

Quick Facts on Brian Griffith

  • Brian Griffith online
  • Home: Near Toronto, Ontario, in a condo.
  • Comfort food: Iranian kabobs
  • Top reads: Joseph Campbell, Riane Eisler, Starhawk, Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein
  • Current reads: Jane Goodall, Hope for Animals and Their World

What are you working on at the moment?

A book on “animal wars,” about how different cultures have different associations with the same animals, and how there’s probably more room for improvement than we assume.

Where did the idea for A Galaxy of Immortal Women come from?

Back in the 1980s and 90s, I got excited about work by Marija Gimbutas and Riane Eisler on the Western world’s prehistoric “civilizations of the goddess.” I wondered how cultures like that could be trashed and forgotten in the march of progress. Then it dawned on me that China has many popular cults of goddesses, and that basically, China’s civilization of the goddess never died. Their goddesses, such as Guanyin, Xi Wang Mu, Chen Jinggu, or Mazu, represent something little seen in the West—religious traditions built by women, for women. And these traditions have survived without facing deadly persecution. They were never erased from the record. Maybe most Chinese people have had too much respect for their mother’s values. I got curious and studied this for some years. And slowly I realized that the women’s religions were just one aspect of a huge counterculture within the world’s biggest society. It’s a whole alternative “Yin” version of Chinese civilization, with its own visions concerning balance, partnership, health, and human potential. I found the myths, insights, heroes, and saints of this counterculture to be refreshing and powerful. I began to see this counterculture as a gigantic force for good in the world, which is only growing stronger. I wanted to learn about that, and share some stories about people I can really admire. 

“I began to see this counterculture

 as a gigantic force for good in the world,

which is only growing stronger.”

Who do you picture as the ideal reader of your work?

I wish it was translated in Mandarin and read by thousands of Chinese factory girls. If a few hundred copies circulated around Saudi Arabia, I’d love it even if I didn’t know. I wish retired couples who are curious about Tai Chi, Daoism, or Buddhism would pick it up. Last, I wish it was required reading in tons of women’s studies or comparative religion courses, especially in Riane Eisler’s Center for Partnership Studies.

What do you hope readers will take away from your work?

I hope people will gain a greater appreciation for Chinese women—what they’ve come through, what they’ve stood for, and what they’ve achieved. I hope readers enjoy the stories and find something they’d like to explore further. I hope people gain a more critical and creative eye concerning what they respect. Because in China, warlord rulers commonly claimed to be the central objects of their people’s loyalties. Confucian officials claimed to be the official spokesmen of their civilization. Eldest males commonly claimed to be the primary figures in their families. But who has believed these claims? Most of the women described in this book have not. And I hope that readers take away a greater sense of creative independence in choosing who they believe, who they learn from, and who they are. One thing I don’t want is for people to assume the book proclaims female superiority. Because most Chinese women have wanted real partnership rather than a struggle for superiority.

“I hope that readers take away a greater sense

of creative independence in choosing who they believe,

who they learn from, and who they are.”

Where and when do you prefer to write?

In the mornings. It starts out good and things go downhill from there.

Where would you most want to live and write?

You know, writing requires a lack of distractions, and there’s no place like home. If there’s nothing but a strip mall in the snow outside, that is actually quite conducive to the practice. 

What do you listen to when you work?

Absolutely nada.

Do you have a philosophy for, or an approach to, how and why you write?

I believe that my mind is like a small flashlight, which forgets whatever the beam isn’t presently shining on. Therefore I need help. Whenever I see something of note, I must make a note of it. I must collect the notes on used paper torn into quarter-pages. Then I comb through the piles of notes, subdividing them into what somehow goes with what. Only then will connections appear. Only in repeated drafts with more cards will the story round out, and acquire far more memory than my head will hold.

Beyond that, I’m fascinated by the ways cultural history influences us, and how collective experience offers insights for the future. I basically agree with Riane Eisler that our history is an evolving competition between values of partnership and values of domination. In one story we are fighting over who’s on top. In the other we are exploring how good our relations can get.

“I’m fascinated by the ways cultural history

influences us, and how collective experience

offers insights for the future.”

What kind of research did you do for A Galaxy of Immortal Women?  

I just read everything listed in the references section [aka pages 292-306 of the book!] and took several shoeboxes-full of notes. I know a few women of Chinese descent, but I was too shy to say much about the project to them. My publisher (Tod Davies) and some other friends of friends offered good advice. 

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read lots, take notes, keep the notes somewhere, have some personal adventures, read through your notes.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a writer?

I didn’t get much advice. But when I read Joseph Campbell, I wanted to write like that.

How have your goals as a writer changed over time?

I tried to lighten up a bit, and focus more on what I appreciate than on what I oppose.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Hang out with my wife.

About Brian Griffith

Brian Griffith is an editor and writer living near Toronto, Ontario. A Galaxy of Immortal Women (Exterminating Angel Press, 2012) is his most recent work. Previous books by Griffith are The Gardens of Their Dreams: Desertification and Culture in World History (2001), Different Visions of Love: Partnership and Dominator Values in Christian History (2008), and Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story (2009).

Buy A Galaxy of Immortal Women, preferably at your local independent bookstore.

[Toffoli, Marissa B. “Interview With Writer Brian Griffith.” Words With Writers (April 4, 2012), https://wordswithwriters.com/2012/04/04/brian-griffith/.%5D

A Galaxy of Immortal Women

A Galaxy of Immortal Women by Brian Griffith (Exterminating Angel Press, 2012).

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