A Comparative Religions Response on “Diana” – A Reader’s Response

Perhaps because of S’s comments on this story, it’s been getting more
response. Frank Harr is the author of the following letter, which
provides another take on this story. Frank’s requested that I not divulge
his e-mail, so if this sparks any comments of your own, I recommend
writing ’em up into an essay. If you send it to me and request that I
post it, I’ll probably do so. This is interesting!

Dear Ms. Mohanraj,

I have recently read your story “Diana” and the comments attached to
it by S, and your comments attached to there and so on. Such commentary
can have a distinct spiral nature. I do think, however, that both sets
of comments (etc.) ignore two items, both connected to the idea of

The first is that Diana (Artemis in Greek) is a very different sort of
divinity than the sort that we are familiar with today. The second is
how divinity can be approached and the dangers involved with that
approach. (I will use “god”, “goddess” and sundry derivatives, when this
word can be thought of as being in an “indefinite” sense or in a
“definite” sense when it represents one god “picked out” of the various
choices, and use “God” when referring to the Judo-Christian-Islamic god
(“al-Lah” in the Islamic creed), or when referring to the spiritual
divinity that most religions acknowledge in a general sort of way without
referring any specific divinity, or group of divinities). I am sorry
about this convolutedness; such are the perils of writing about

In modern English speaking culture, Diana is almost synonymous with the
Greek goddess Artemis, who herself (in part because of the wanderlust and
curiosity of the Greeks themselves) can be regarded as representing a
range of nature goddesses who evolved in the eastern Mediterranean..
Diana, and all of her related goddesses, is essentially a nature goddess.
This is not, however, “Mother Nature” from the Victorians. The nature,
that the ancient Greeks knew was intense and vicious. She was the goddess
of animal and vegetable increase, but also the goddess of the chase and,
necessarily, the end. She is the goddess of childbirth, but not of
marriage or sex. Bears have been associated with her cult in some places,
and sacrifice, some of it may have been human. As the goddess of children
and the young (of all things) she was attributed by Aescilus with the
keeping of the Greeks so that they would not destroy Troy, and was outdone
only by the sacrifice of Iphaginea (the daughter of the leader of the
Greek army); and, in a later version of events, saved the daughter and
arranged for her to be one of Diana’s own priestesses.

Diana was associated with the moon and with magic, and was the goddess
specifically called upon in the play “Medina” which carried the Argonaut
story to a tragic conclusion. She was an important and primal goddess.
She was being danced to by young women into the late nineteenth century
and represented something deep, personal, dangerous, and more than a
little scary. She was the goddess who saw you get born, made sure you
grew up and there was enough food in your mouth, and possibly waved to you
on the way out as well.

In approaching any divinity or, to be more specific, gods and goddesses
there are a number of diffrent styles. One extreme can be thought of as
the Protestant model, where every Individual stands before God or Jesus
(there seems to be some small variation in this) on their own hind legs
during all points of their life, and are completely answerable to these
principles for all their actions. In the Catholic church (particularly in
the Mediaeval church) you could make use of the saints to intercede on
your behalf. In my understanding of the Jewish religion, there is a sort
of continuous discussion with God, particularly in the field of
scholarship. An interesting thing happens, however, when we look at
Islam. In Mosques, one wears a small head covering (whereas in Christian
churches, no head covering is worn). The point of this is that God is so
incandescent, and so big, that it is dangerous to be in his presence, and
some sort of protection is required.

Protestantism and perhaps Evangelicalism notwithstanding, most religions
have some sort of ritualized protection from the capriciousness of the
unknowable, that is, GOD. God is the unknowable other. Despite any
myths, or human-like description of whatever divinities the relevant
culture has, there is always the idea that God (or Gods) is so powerful,
and so unknowable that to approach Him/Her/It/Them is dangerous,
especially someone like Diana who handles such issues as both life and

In analyzing this story, I am reminded that the ancient Greek language
had three diffrent words for “love”. The two most well known concepts to
us are physical love, and spiritual (or “friendship”, which can be just as
intense) love between two Human beings. The third was the love for God.
In fact, part of the basis of many religions and much ritual is to in some
way approach God and express (or be exhorted to express) this love in some
way. With this in mind, we can interpret Michael’s experience as an
(unintentional) approach to God (specifically in the form of Diana) in a
concrete way, instead of ritualistic or abstract manner. Michael leaves
his ordinary and very cluttered life for a vacation as deep into nature as
the State of Connecticut will allow. He is away so long he just begins to
miss it, but has to go pretty far away and be very alone to manage it.
Then he encounters what he thinks is just a “bevy of beautiful maidens”;
naked, but normal. He approaches and as he becomes more deeply involved,
the nature of his situation becomes more apparent.

We know by the title of the story, the context, and Diana’s mythology
that he will not make it out of the situation “alive”, but unexpectedly
is asked what he wants. Quite possibly, this is the first time he has
ever thought of the question seriously, most people don’t get around to
it. Although he decides that he really dose love his girlfriend and what
he has made of his life, and almost says that that is what he wants, he
decides that he wants Diana. This is not just a decision between the nude
redhead in front of him or the girlfriend who is far away, but a decision
between his own, personal life, or God in the immediate form of Diana and,
because of the danger of approaching God in any case, his own union with
oblivion within her; remember, Michael says that he knew that he was
never going home. Of course Michael would not survive as “Michael”, but
the mode of his end, and perhaps his ultimate fate, was determined by his
choice. As such, there is not really a question of morality, or
self-negation, but rather a personal choice about which of the various
loves in life is most important to one specific individual.

I am not sure that this story is “negative” as opposed to “positive”. Sex
is more than a sensual, or even a social act (in connection with marriage
and various moralities). It is the way that our species (and most in our
world) continues making more examples of Human beings. Each person gives
a part of themselves to each other, and to the next generation. It has
been suggested that the whole edifice of Human culture is a unique way to
protect and perpetuate the creation of the next generation as long as
possible. I wouldn’t go that far, but there is a point to it. The
consummation of this act between a Human and a god in any mythology, is
always deeply significant. With Zeus, new gods or heroes are created.
But Diana is not the goddess of marriage, or family life, or civilization,
or the weather, or paternity, or even sex. She is the goddess of nature,
and childbirth, and continuation, and hunting, and life, and death. She
is wild and dangerous. I have even read the possibility that in her early
worship, “virgin” did not mean “celibate” but “unmarried”. As such,
Michael had no chance, but I cannot help thinking that perhaps he added
something very important, if only to his own fragile existence.

Frank R. Harr

I think Frank lays out, much more specifically than I did, a lot of
what was in the back of my head as I wrote “Diana”. I didn’t have nearly
as much background knowledge on the deity, but I did know some of this,
and it definitely affected my treatment of the piece. If I had written a
Catholic sacrifice story, it would have had a very different thrust (and
been much more ethically problematic from my point of view).

One of the odd things about this story for me, is that while Michael is
the protagonist, at the end of the story, I realized that Diana is as much
of a protagonist, with as much of a character change — perhaps more.
Michael realizes something about his soul, his inner self. Diana steps
outside the amoral god paradigm long enough to offer Michael a choice
(though we don’t really know why), and his choice affects her. We think.
Perhaps this incident will open her up to others like it, other
possibilities outside the ‘rules’ which govern her behavior. I meant to
leave you with that hope — not a certainty, but a possibility. In that
sense, you could argue that this is a profoundly hopeful/ethical story.
I’m not sure I have quite the gumption to argue that myself. 🙂

– Mary Anne