The Peasant and the Queen? — Pez King Blog #3

I’ve been feeling self-conscious about the lack of gender balance in The Peasant and the King. In sharp contrast to Birding in the Face of Terror, which has several female characters playing prominent and heroic roles, and where the male narrators receive lessons of a feminine relational spirituality of interbeing along with the heady crown chakra metaphysics, Pez King has no obvious female presence at all.

Like The Bhagavad-Gita (on which it is partly modeled), Pez King consists mostly of a conversation between two archetypes, one of whom is, well, the King —pretty much your straight-forward celestial sky-daddy, or so we are led to think. Then there’s the peasant, who, while not so blatantly gender-specific, does present symptoms of what seems to be a particularly yang/male spiritual problem: a sense of isolation caused by an excess of concrete, and particularly word-based self-identity. And isn’t that much of the gender problem in a nutshell, that the default setting for a non-specific archetype always seems to be male?

That being the case in our culture, there is a significant skewing of “universal” archetypes toward the male, because choosing a female one seems to suggest it represents a “women’s issue.” I’m afraid that I’ve given into that thus far with this book rather than challenge it.

This came into sharp relief through a conversation with my partner about how many of the acclaimed modern storytellers and spiritual culture-bearers of the 20th century (Tolkien and Joseph Campbell were specifically called out, but there are many others) never spoke to her because they didn’t address her reality as a woman in any meaningful way. It is a worthwhile and attainable goal to produce spiritual literature that doesn’t alienate half of the world through exclusion, and if I fail to even attempt that with Pez King, it would be a tremendous disservice to the book.

So it got me thinking: what would a similar conversation between a female peasant and the Queen be like? And is there any way to incorporate some of that consciousness to Pez King? Clearly it entails more than the superficiality of making a gender-neutral monarch of the King. There is something unique and balancing to be evoked from the interaction between a woman raised in a patriarchy and a archetype of the Divine Feminine, and it’s a story that should be told, or at very least, acknowledged.

When I started the book in 2002, I didn’t have gender issues in mind at all. It was a simple parable reacting to my encounter with a highly patriarchal sect within the broadly patriarchal religion of Christianity, and though it outgrew that framework by leaps and bounds, at its core it is still a challenge to the religious norms of our time, but not specifically its hierarchical gender structure. My mea culpa for maintaining this framework has been balanced by what I consider a constructive desire not to challenge the male deity bias head-on, and thus be easily dismissable by a population I want to sneak up upon and grab by the third eye.

I wasn’t ignorant of nor immune to the gender disparity issue. I’ll never forget as a teenager reading my father’s high school yearbook —he was from the class of 1964 at a traditional Catholic school, with Latin mass and all that jazz— and seeing that the lay people who worked as secretaries were referred to as, for example, “Mrs. John Smith.” I still shudder from the skin-crawling creepiness of the realization that her entire identity was usurped and defined by her relationship to her husband. (Come to think of it, why weren’t all the nuns named “Mrs. Jesus Christ?”) I’m sure that was a key reason why I was all in favor when my first wife suggested that we solve the last name dilemma by choosing one of our own when we were married.

Still, it didn’t occur to me until embarrassingly recently that a person whose identity is nebulous, malleable, and more or less up for sale may not have the same kind of existential crisis as someone whose identity is expected to remain constant from birth to death and beyond. Perhaps my choice to change it myself (more than once and for various reasons) obscured the binary dynamic of gender norms as they shape how we individuate and experience the subjective self.

As much as I will always admire the insight and academic legacy of Joseph Campbell, I agree that he biffed it to the extent that he offered the tale of the Vanquishing Hero as the monomyth. It is a very Western and yang-centric lens on our collective literary and folk history. The hero may have had a thousand faces, but few if any of them were yin-feminine.

I do believe there is a monomyth at the heart of it all, and the Vanquishing Hero is a subset or major player in the cast, but it is not a universal theme. I would argue instead that the universal story is the circular path of life itself: from source (big S or little s), through the subjective experience of a finite life via linear time, and back to source. The dramatic element comes from our fervent and now virtually axiomatic belief that life consists only of the segment between birth and death, and the resultant struggle of all of us, male and female alike, to reconcile that experience with any sense of meaning or significance. Within that drama, there is a primary plotline in which most humans attempt to gain some kind of knowledge about the  S/source and come to terms with its nature. In other (and less wordy) words, the monomyth is Our Journey Home.

The parable of the Prodigal Son in the Gospel of Luke is a great example of an archetypal version of Our Journey Home (and there’s nothing other than cultural bias and stereotyping that would prevent its adaptation into a Prodigal Daughter’s tale). In fact, according to Wikipedia, there is an older version of the Prodigal Son in the Mahayana Buddhist “Lotus Sutra,” lending some credence to its universality. (I’m including it here because it hits even closer to home for Pez King than the Christian version. For the record, I’ve never read the Lotus Sutra, so any similarity with the storyline of Pez King is purely Perennial.)

“The two parables are so similar in their outline and many details that several scholars have assumed that one version has influenced the other or that both texts share a common origin. However, an influence of the biblical story on the Lotus sutra is regarded as unlikely given the early dating of the stratum of the sutra containing the Buddhist parable. In spite of their similarities, both parables continue differently after the two meet for the first time at the son’s return. In the biblical story, there is an immediate reunion of the two. In contrast, in the Lotus sutra, the poor son does not recognize the rich man as his father. When the father sends out some attendants to welcome the son, the son panics, fearing some kind of retribution. The father then lets the son leave without telling him of their kinship. However, he gradually draws the son closer to him by employing him in successively higher positions, only to tell him of their kinship in the end. In the Buddhist parable, the father symbolises the Buddha, and the son symbolises any human being. Their kinship symbolises that any being has Buddha nature. The concealment of the kinship of the father to his son is regarded as a skillful means (Sanskrit: upāya).”

Given this conscious reframing of the monomyth in my mind, I figured that a similar reframing would be necessary for the experience of the male peasant to draw out its universality. Something tells me that when a typical woman hears “you must lay down your life as a peasant to learn your greater identity,” she is probably thinking, “Well shit, I’ve been doing that my whole life already, how’s this going to be any different?” Just as you can’t forget something you never knew, you can’t surrender what you never fully owned.

Then I started thinking about the king and queen as chess pieces — chess is not part of the text of Pez King, but the pawn and king are front and center as the cover image and therefore a central symbolic theme of the book as a whole. The queen is the most powerful individual piece on the board, while the king has virtually no offensive power, but the game ends when he is captured. In a sense, he represents the whole team, which lives or dies as a whole on his life and death.

Juxtapose that to the reality of life in a patriarchy, in which boys are raised to become strong, active individuals and causal agents of change, and, traditionally, girls have been raised to be passive performers of roles that are defined by interrelationship. [1]

It should be obvious, then, what kind of players are needed for restoratively transformational mythologies that will bring out the natural balance of fully integrated individual human beings. We need a King who teaches interbeing of the individual and the whole, and a Queen who teaches self-definition and individual empowerment. [2]

With that in mind, and remembering the goal and purpose of self-knowledge (“we write these stories to transcend them”), I added this section to the dialogue near the end, after the Way of the Peasant King has been fully illustrated:

“Remain mindful that the Way of the Peasant King is not the only way to Love. Many have had their peasanthood defined not by concrete words and ideas, but by their relationship with others; they suffer from a lack of individuality where you suffered from an excess. This requires them to come to Love by way of individual self-discovery, through the empowering energy of the Queen, which is a whole other story.

But whether the peasant is built up or chopped down to proper size, all paths will eventually come to this intersection of form and Formless. Death of the form is the ultimate question, and the unity of Love will always be the answer.”

I’ll be looking for ways to slip that message into the text in earlier places as well, and there are a couple other things that are best left for the element of surprise.


[1] The scope is much too big for this post, but you’ll eventually see that this is a glass slipper that exquisitely fits the foot of the panpsychist premise that’s presented in Pez King, and I’m ecstatic about that.

[2] The latter transformation is rapidly occurring in most Western cultures, but the former, I reckon, is moving much more slowly. Essentially, that we are having much more success at raising girls as strong individuals than boys as “interbeers” is an inevitable sign of the times in a yang-dominant, hyperindividualistic society. My concern is that we aren’t creating well-balanced women as much as turning the isolated male ego into an equal opportunity illusion. This is the main reason I don’t feel bad for focusing on the yang aspect of our existential crisis in Pez King —it is the side that is more out of whack and less effectively addressed by the current mythos.

2 thoughts on “The Peasant and the Queen? — Pez King Blog #3

  1. I haven’t received a pdf of your book, but don’t know if you’ve sent any out yet. In regards to Campbell’s Hero, your father’s yearbooks, as well as historical sexism and patriarchy, I think some care needs to guard against what historians call “presentism.” This is the anachronistic introduction of present day standards into the past. But this a minor criticism of your book, compared to importance of its themes. Can’t wait to read it.🤓

    Sent from Tom


    Liked by 1 person

    1. And I can’t wait to get it out to you! The self-imposed deadline is April 26. It may take me right up until that night to get it done too, as I hadn’t considered the degree of difficulty of trying to focus on the manuscript while both March Madness and the beginning of the baseball season are happening 😀

      I would agree about laying judgment per se on Campbell and his Catholic predecessors and contemporaries, or other products of our nearly universal patriarchal legacy. My concern is that, when a female contemporary of mine says “Yeah, those ol’ boys never really spoke to me spiritually,” it behooves me to pay attention to why. She could be speaking for as much as half of my potential readership, and that’s just the most shallow way to put it.

      I consider my responsibility as a mythmaker with a variation on the adage that goes, “God forgives a racist, but not his children.” It isn’t on me to pass judgment on the voices of the past that inspired me, but it is on me to push the envelope of social evolution, and let my own voice endeavor to inspire all. At very least, it pushes me to focus on themes that are truly universal, and not just intrinsic to a default setting of “universal” that looks like a first-world white male.


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