Selene, the Most Famous Bull-Leaper on Earth

For some time now we’ve needed new books for our children, books with new images of women and girls. There have been some improvements, of course; I suppose Dick and Jane’s mother stands some chance of being a lawyer these days…

But imagine… Imagine a children’s book with real vision into the nature of women’s culture. Imagine women role models who are not only rulers, but healers, artists, priestesses; and a ship’s captain who can both navigate storms and steer into “alternate realities.” Imagine all this in the setting of an actual past, in Crete where the Goddess worship still flourished after it had been driven underground in mainland Greece. Imagine a coming-of-age story with the power of myth. Z. Budapest’s book, Selene, is all these things.

Selene and her mother “lived on the outskirts of Athens in an abandoned and sacred grove, full of tall trees and fine statues of the Goddesses. It was forbidden to attend to the shrines, but Ariadne, who was also a wonderful storyteller, told many things to her daughter while they wove their baskets together.” Finding it too dangerous to stay in Greece, they manage to return to matriarchal Crete, where Selene encounters bull-leaping. Bull-leaping: have you seen those frescoes they found on Crete? Bare-breasted young women doing acrobatics on charging bulls, handstands on the sharp horns. I’ve known about bull-leaping most of my life – and yet somehow I didn’t know; it just didn’t compute: Young women, essentially the same body as mine, leaping charging bulls??… What would it have taken? Years of physical training, yes, and meditation, and centering; a consciousness, perhaps, like the martial arts… a spiritual focus then? And in Crete, then, a sacred, symbolic sport, a performance before the Goddess, an enactment of the strength of women: grace, imagination, and fearlessness dancing the horns of the bull. [And do the dancers, this close to death, sense, perhaps, the Goddess within?]

So we read of the symbolic meaning of the game, and how before practice each morning the young athletes meditate in the temple of Hecate. All this is mentioned as matter-of-factly as is the export of olive oil.

Sometimes the book is a little startling in its juxtaposition of realities, of frames of reference. We find such verbal bed­partners as “It was a long and perilous journey, and they were completely broke,” Words like “matriarchy” and “socialized.”

Ariadne now saw the gracious Goddess hovering over the waters” or “(they) gave free reign to the pain they had felt during their long separation.” It is by weaving such disparate threads that Z. Budapest creates a story whose language resonates from myth and from daily life, from social science and from vision, a story of growing wholeness.

…And while we’re at it, a sweet Lily Crown to Carol Clement for her many illustrations. The costumes are authentic, the underarms are hairy, and the women’s faces are strong and full of feeling.