St. Mabel of Paragonah: Saint of Priesthood Envy

  

Beginnings

Saint Mabel was born in the small rural town of Paragonah, in southern Utah.  As the only girl in a family with seven boys, she grew up learning how to hunt, play ball, and wrestle with the best of them.  She preferred to be strong and outdoors, and shunned dolls and lacey things.  In fact, because she ran with her brothers, she felt just like one of the boys, until just before she turned twelve.

Twelve is age when boys get ordained Deacons in the Aaronic Priesthood and can pass the sacrament, blessed bits of broken white bread and tiny cups of water, to the congregation.  She had seen all her older brothers get this priesthood when they were twelve, and then get ordained Teachers, then Priests, and then Elders just before serving their missions.

Mabel had been told all her life that boys are different from girls.  She had been taught lessons about how the priesthood was not something girls should want to have.  Women should be happy to do what Heavenly Father put them on earth to do, which is to is to get married in the temple to man, have babies, be good moms and wives, and watch over the women and children in the church.  She usually tuned out.  She was good at tuning out boring stuff at church.  Plus, she didn’t feel like these lessons applied to her.  She didn’t particularly want to be a wife or a mom.

A few days before she was about to turn twelve, Mabel asked her mom when she was going to get the priesthood like her brothers.  Her mom turned off the burner on the stove and asked Mabel to sit with her on the couch.  Mabel’s mom explained that women were naturally spiritual and so they didn’t need the priesthood.  Men needed it because it made them better people, less rash and more helpful.  Mabel’s mom said that if Mabel married a nice man in the temple, she could share her husband’s priesthood for all eternity.

This did not go over well with Mabel.  It wasn’t that she didn’t like to share.  She was generous.  It was that she felt she should have her very own priesthood, not just a tiny bit of someone else’s.  Mabel also suspected women didn’t have the priesthood because men just didn’t want them to have it. Not because women are too good to need it.

For the next few months Mabel watched the church with new eyes.  Seeing what men could do – almost anything like healing the sick, administering offices of the priesthood, being apostles and prophets, and having all the mysterious keys of priesthood authority – and what women could do – have babies, be good wives, be good housekeepers, have jobs in the church that looked after women and children, and sometimes, if they were lucky, be leaders at the yearly outdoor camp, which Mabel loved.  None of this seemed fair.

A dark cloud overcame Mabel.  She began to suffer from Priesthood Envy.  All she could see is what she was not allowed to be.  She became hopeless because she realized she had little interest in baking, she preferred to hunt rather than cook, she did not like children.  What she did like to do, read and learn, seemed unimportant.  All the lessons in church were about family and marriage. Mabel knew she was smart, and strong, and would be a good priesthood leader if given a chance. She began to feel like she was not, and never would be, enough.

A Miraculous Vision

One day, Mabel quit feeling sorry for herself and decided to be proactive and do what Joseph Smith did.  When Joseph was confused about which church to join, he went into the forest and prayed.  Plus, scriptures say if you ask God with a sincere heart and real intent that you’ll learn the truth.  She was sure if she asked, God would say yes and ordain her with the priesthood.

Mabel dressed in a black suit and purple tie, borrowed from her older brother.  The suit seemed like a good choice because her brothers wore suits when they were ordained.  Mabel put on her hiking books, packed a snack and a canteen of water, and climbed way up a nearby hill to a cool grove of aspens. Then she knelt and prayed.

A miracle occurred.  She had a vision, but not the one she was expecting.

A cloud of light descended, and in it she saw two women, robed in white over purple gowns.  One had skin dark as space and eyes like twinkling stars.  The other had skin with rich brown tones and hair in a long dark braid.

Mabel was surprised by this.  She thought she would see two white men in robes.  She didn’t know women could be part of visions.

Mabel thought to herself, “Ok, women not men.  Now, if the vision follows the script I learned in primary, one of these women will say something like “this is my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye her,” like when Heavenly Father introduced Jesus to Joseph Smith in his first vision.”

The women in the cloud of light smiled, then put their feet on the ground, and said “come daughter, sit with us.” They motioned to several large smoothed boulders just the right height for sitting.  These stones were one of the reasons Mabel liked this place. There was always a comfortable place to sit.

“We are two of what you would call “Mothers in Heaven.”  We have been waiting for your prayer. We have watched you for a long time, and felt sad to see you so troubled by Priesthood Envy.  It is a common malady in your culture.  We heard your prayer and are here to cure you.”

“But I don’t want to be cured.  I’m not even sick.  I just want the priesthood,” Mabel exclaimed.

The goddess with the long braid spoke, “Have you been feeling sad? Like life is unfair? Like you can’t be who you want to be?”

“Yes,” said Mabel.

“Those are classic symptoms of Priesthood Envy.  Trust me.  I know just the story that might help.”

“How can a story help?”

“Stories always help.  Just listen.  We can talk about the priesthood in a minute. OK?”

“OK.”

“This is a story from the Ona and Yagan[i], people who live at the very southern tip of South America.  In one of their myths, they tell of a time when women were free to do as they wished, to hunt, to make decisions, to rule the tribe, and to be healers.  Back then, men and women worked together.  But the men were jealous.  They feared the women because women could produce new life.  Women seemed dark and powerful.  Too powerful.  The men began to secretly hate women and their power.

The men held secret councils, deep in the night when the women slept.  They made plans to take power from the women.  One night the men snuck up on the women as they slept in their beds.  The men killed their wives, their daughters, their mothers, and their grandmothers.  They killed every female except for newborn baby girls.  Then they burned the bodies and went to sleep.

As the baby girls grew up they had only men to listen to.  Men who taught the girls that they were too weak to be leaders.  That they were too stupid to make decisions.  That they were too soft to hunt.  That they would only be happy if they tended fires, raised children, and said yes when men asked.  The girls, taught in these lying ways before they could walk or speak, learned to do as they were told.  Any girls who questioned or disobeyed were punished, exiled, or killed. And so, men gained authority.”

Mabel sat back heavily against the rock she was sitting on. “Wow.  Really?  Men killed all the women so they could have control?”

“Yes.”

“Did this happen in other places too?”

The Goddess with stars for eyes replied, “Yes, but sometimes killing wouldn’t do.  Sometimes there were rules against it.  So, men found other ways to gain and keep their authority.

Before we go any further, Mabel, I need to make an important point.  Some women prefer to nurture children, to craft delicious meals, and to use herbs to heal.  These tasks are their calling and highlight their truest gifts.  They should be allowed to do as they will without shame.  Other women, those more like you, who would rather hunt and learn and lead should also be able to do as they choose.  As should men who would rather bake bread, cook for the hunters rather than kill, and arrange dried flowers just because it pleases them.  In a world free of external authority, each person is truly free choose their best path – the path of their own heart.

But things don’t always work out this way.  Some men, like the men in the story are hungry for power.  They craft structures of power, and these structures have many forms.  These men know that if everyone was truly free to choose their own way, the authorities might lose their power as people found their own. So those in power fight to maintain the structures that keep them in power.

Mabel, you were born into a culture where men exert power by using priesthood to control what people can and cannot do.  People comply to the rules or are forced to leave and never return unless they promise to forever follow the rules of the priesthood leaders. The leaders also add doctrine of eternal separation from God and family as incentive to obey.  These men have clothed their authority in good deeds, like healing the sick, and preaching the gospel, but underneath, many of them firmly believe that they are better than women, better than unbelievers, and better than those who do not rise to their same level of authority within this structure of power.”

Mabel sat there.  Blinking.  Mouth open.  Trying to take all this in. “So the priesthood power is mostly about control?”

“Yes,” both Goddesses said in unison.

“Priesthood is like killing the women and then teaching them to obey, just nicer?”

“It looks nicer from the outside, yes” explained the goddess with stars for eyes.

Mabel frowned, “But some people like my dad are really nice and use Priesthood blessings in kind ways.  How can that be if it is just a way to control?”

The goddesses looked at each other.  Then the goddess with the beautiful braid spoke, “We know it seems contradictory.  Truth often does. And remember that priesthood is used badly by some men as an excuse to be mean, to pry into the private lives of women, and to make themselves feel bigger and more important than people who don’t have that priesthood.”

Mabel said, “But I’ve seen the priesthood work.  I’ve seen when people were healed.  When divine words were spoken. I’ve seen blessings, and baptisms, and ordinations.  I felt it was real in my heart.  I felt the spirit.  It seemed so real to me.”

If Mabel had been a crier, she would have burst into tears.  But she wasn’t, and she didn’t.

The goddesses both smiled. The dark mother said, “Of course it seemed real.  It was real.  They could perform miracles because they believed they could.  You too can believe, but believe in yourself, not in them. You will find that you do not need titles and hands laid on your head to access spiritual power.  You already have it.”

“I do?”

“Yes, you always have.  No one can take away something that has always existed and always will exist.”

“How do I find this power in me?”

The goddess with skin like space continued, “All you need to do is believe it, and use it.  But true power works best in cooperation the Universe.  Do not try to force your will on things.  That is one of the big mistakes.  Forcing your own will just leads to the formation of a new structure of power.  Instead, ask the Universe to show you how to work with divine powers rather than control them.  Your power is strongest when you cooperate with what the Universe needs to be done, not force your will.”

Mabel did not know what to say.  This was a lot of information that she wasn’t expecting.  Mabel began to think that maybe her mom was right in a way, that women do have natural spiritual power.  Women have always been powerful.  Too powerful to be controlled.  No wonder men invented the Priesthood. Maybe it was because men felt they couldn’t be enough without it.

The goddess with the braid continued, “We know it will take time for you to find a way to use what we have told you today.  Just know we are watching you.  Just call us and we will aid you. Know you do not need to envy the Priesthood, for you have all the magic you need within you already.”

Mabel thanked them.  They stood up, and motioned for Mabel to hug them, which she gladly did, even though she wasn’t much of a hugger.  Then they each kissed Mabel on the forehead in goodbye and rose into a cloud of light and disappeared.

Mabel, dressed in her suit and tie and hiking boots, sat there for a long time.  She was tired.  Visions take a lot out of you.  She ate an apple and drank some water from her canteen.  As she rested, she decided that she liked wearing the suit and tie.  She could do, wear, and be anything she wanted.

Life After the Vision

Mabel kept her vision a secret.  She didn’t know any women who would believe her, and the men would just be angry.  Plus, she knew what could happen to people claiming to see a vision.  Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for hearing voices.  Joseph Smith was martyred, and he wasn’t even a woman.  Mabel wrote the vision in her journal, weatherproofed it, and buried it in a stone box in her sacred aspen grove.

Now cured of Priesthood Envy Mabel grew into a strong, beautiful woman who occasionally wore suits when no one was looking.  She had to be careful because girls who see visions and wear suits in Paragonah don’t get away with it.

Mabel worked at the Dairy Queen in nearby Parowan, though she despised the uniform, to save money to go to college.  When she was old enough, with a scholarship in hand, she left home for the University of Utah.  She almost lived in the library, where she could read all the books she wanted.  She enrolled in classes that suited her, and learned of feminism, and goddess worship and went to poetry slams.  She began reading about dark goddesses, deities of the tribes in South America and North America, and goddesses in India and Siberia and Wales.  Goddesses were everywhere, or at least they had been everywhere. She took notes in a special notebook bound in leather with a lock.

Mabel prayed to the goddesses, but never at church which she now attended just enough to divert suspicion. She asked the Universe to guide her.  She wore her suit more often on campus, and sometimes a tie with jeans and a nice-sage colored shirt.  She liked the suits better than the sailor collar dresses her mom fancied dressing her in back in Paragonah.

Mabel didn’t like Salt Lake City.  Too many people. She loved the red rocks and deserts of southern Utah.  After college, she built a little house off the grid in the woods on a small piece of land, and set up a mail order business.  There was a little spring, sunlight, wind for a generator, and a cellar to keep roots in.  She made one room into a library, and wrote poetry at night by candelight.

Girls and women from around the area, good Mormons who seemed to keep the rules but wanted something more, and who heard the name “Mabel” spoken in whispers, would visit her.  Sometimes Mabel would see someone at church who was suffering from Priesthood Envy, and if she felt they could be trusted, she would invite them to her house and tell them of her vision.

Eventually, someone told the Bishop and she was called in for an interview.  She had hidden for years in plain sight in the Mormon church, attending church to complete her cover.  Mabel knew that she had to make a choice.  She could follow her own truth and be cast out, or to follow the leaders and remain.  It was not hard to choose. She knew that she had magic more powerful than priesthood.

After she was excommunicated, more and more women, and a few men, arrived at her door.  Together they raised a dorm to house the growing number of exiles from her culture who believed in her vision.  Someone started calling her St. Mabel, and it stuck, despite her protests.  St. Mabel opens her door to any honest seeker who knocks.  Legend says her door is open still.

Working with St. Mabel

St. Mabel is the Patron Saint of poets, vagabonds, truth seekers, and the gender-fluid.  She can be invoked simply by asking for help.  She favors aiding those who deeply desire to overcome the stranglehold of authority or patriarchy in their lives. She is particularly helpful to vagabonds and rabble-rousers who use poetry, rather than violence, to change their world.  She likes offerings of first edition books, candles, and colorful ties.

St. Mabel is anxious to help anyone, male or female, who wants to tap into their own inner magic, beyond the constructs of society or religion.  Her favorite colors are purple and sage.  Her holy day is July 24th, a day chosen to remind people that “the place” is not the Salt Lake Valley, as Brigham Young claimed, but is a magical realm within, accessibly to anyone who seeks to find it.

[i] From “Authority” in Galeano, E. 1985. Genesis: Memory of Fire: Volume 1. Page 36.

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