(Essay) The Mago Hedge School: Why Remember Mary Daly? by Helen Hye Sook Hwang

Prologue

By writing this, I do not intend to defend Mary Daly’s position in any dispute. A controversial figure, Mary Daly never let go of her fight with those whom she thought on the other side of her feminist war. Like anyone else in history, Mary Daly belonged to her time and culture, and I leave her unresolved issues up to her. What I write here is my fond memory of her, whose feminist thought left an indelible mark on my being as well as humanity as a whole. Daly’s contribution remains to be reassessed from the fresh eye of new generations. In the meantime, I begin to speak for my part. Without Mary Daly’s thought, I would not have been in this place where I stand right now. It has empowered me to actualize my dreams to the fullest as a wo/man who was born and raised in Korea but had come from the One Home in origin.

I first hear of the hedge school
“Have you heard of the hedge school, Hye Sook?” asked Mary. “No, I haven’t heard of it,” I answered. This conversation took place during the conference called the Feminist Hullaballoo held in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2007. We met there and spent three days as chums. Mary was with another friend, Yvonne Johnson, so the three of us hung out together. It was a very special time for me – I felt as if I were wrapped up in the eye of the storm. (In fact, my life feels so.) At the conference, someone asked me how I came to be invited as a featured speaker. I was among such renowned feminist speakers as Sonia Johnson, Paula Gunn Allen, and Mary Daly herself. They felt like giants to me. I told her that Mary Daly invited me. Mary had asked me if I would like to go and speak at that conference. I did not have an inflated ego. I would not have been hurt if I were not chosen. But I said “Yes” without hesitation. At the time, it felt like another one of the many “outlandish” adventures that I had undertaken throughout my life. In retrospect, however, this was a very special “Yes” to the beginning of my life’s new phase.

It was my debut as a radical feminist, so to speak – the first time I spoke to such a large number of radical feminists. Mary sat in the front row and listened to my talk. She nodded her head saying “It was great,” when I finished and came down to sit next to her. Mary was just getting to know my research on Mago in that year; that was what she was referring to. Nonetheless, what mattered to me was not how well I presented my research, but that I managed to do it! The jitters were over! I was returning Home and had just been baptized in public as a Wo/man, the whole being. [This talk was later published in Trivia: Voices of Feminism.]

My two dreams
When I accepted Mary’s invitation, I was thinking of my two dreams. I am a dream-listener. Or to be more accurate, my dreams have led me through. These dreams with regard to Mary Daly are in fact old; I dreamt them before my arrival in Claremont, California, in 1997. In the first dream, I was in the crowd when Mary spoke to a large audience. The venue was an open plaza and the stage was far away from where I was standing. Then, out of the blue, Mary called my name and asked me to come up to the podium. It sounded like a call to my soul. So I did. Then, she passed the microphone to me. I blacked out, not knowing what to say, and woke up. This dream told me what I lacked, a message to deliver to the world, which I did not have for some years.

The second dream was a brief but sweet one. Mary and I were standing in an old-style classroom as co-teachers. The dynamic between us was intimate and enjoyable. Honored and proud, I felt in the presence of my old friends. The classroom was a dream-like space within a dream, as if we were in a time machine! More than two decades have passed since I had those dreams, and now I see that they were indeed self-fulfilling dreams.

Santa Fe, NM

The first dream was fulfilled through the event of my speech to the Feminist Hullaballoo conference. By then, it was clear that I was going to speak about the topic of Mago, which I had encountered for my Ph.D. dissertation. It was the topic that I had searched for without knowing and I found it. Now I see that it found me! It is the tradition of my ancestors that has beckoned me to come Home. In Mago, I found an anciently originated gynocnetric reality, which encompasses everyone regardless and named it Magoism.

Mary and I meet in person
The first time I met her in person was in early April of 1999, in Claremont, California. I had been in contact with Mary Daly for about four years before then. We had spoken over the telephone, faxed, and snail-mailed across the Pacific Ocean while I was living in Korea from 1994 to 1997. Mary was invited to speak by the committee of Claremont Colleges programs including the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Claremont Graduate University, the program I was studying in. In fact, that was the program that Mary had suggested I apply for, and she had written a recommendation letter on my behalf.

My first meeting with her is imprinted on my soul, and it feels as fresh as ever. It was an unusually cold spring day in Claremont. It even sprinkled some rain. She was staying at the Claremont Inn, only a couple of blocks away from my dormitory apartment. She had phoned me the day before her arrival. She called me when she finally got to Claremont.

I knocked at the door and she answered. A bright smile was exchanged with brief greetings, as we hugged warmly. Then she said, “You look just like what I thought of.” And I answered back, “You look just like what I thought of.” I was saying only a half-truth, however. She was smaller than I’d imagined her.

She was warm and kind. Simplicity characterized her appearance, which earned my heart. No mark of tamed femininity. I was meeting a person of my Wo/man Race! We saw into each other’s soul, and neither of us spoke more than we needed to. We sat in the small room. I looked around the humble hotel room she was staying in, the place that held the event of our cosmic meeting! I was 37 and she was 71 in age. We talked for some time. Then she politely asked me if it was okay with me for her to lie down on the bed. It seemed only natural to do so between friends. We connected like that. She looked tired from travel and with the thought of delivering her speech. I was calm and alert. My heart jolted to joy!

Mary Daly and Hye Sook Hwang, photo by Yvonne Johnson

The following day, I went to see her again. Another friend of hers was visiting. Out of nowhere, Mary asked me if I would like to read at the beginning of her talk a part from her bookQuintessence… Realizing the Archaic Future, which had come out the previous fall. Of course, I said “Yes.” I did not have an inflated ego at that time either, but I took it as a symbolic act that would allow me to enter her world. I was there to fulfill a rite of passage, which came to be exposed to me rather suddenly. I could not stop myself from telling her and her friend my first dream that had involved her. It did not matter to me if I made sense to them or was understood by them. I read the part for practice in front of them. Alas, it was so difficult for me to pronounce Mary’s vocabularies, with their neologisms and newly forged notions! My Korean-native tongue felt so incompatible to sound her American thought. Oddness was there to be felt. I did not apologize for that, however, and Mary did not change her mind either. So I was supposed to read the section of her book at the beginning of her lecture later on that day.

I stayed with her in her room until we went to the venue, the Scripps College auditorium. The space was almost packed, perhaps more than two hundred women and men in the audience. Entering the building, Mary looked for the restroom first. I accompanied her to the restroom. I held her bag, lecture notes, and book right outside the toilet that she was using as if she were my childhood friend, mother, or aunt. Then I walked her to the performer’s entrance and saw her walking toward the stage from behind. Then I walked back to the back entrance and entered the auditorium. I sat on a side pew and waited for her talk to begin.

To everyone’s disappointment, the event did not begin on time! A technician went up to the stage to test the microphone system. Mary’s talk was delayed a quite significant time. (I asked later if she was surprised by that, and she said that things like that often happened to disturb the energy that she was going to invoke. Mary was keen to detect the movement of different energies.) When it finally began, she gave me a signal to appear on the podium. I went up and did read the section from her book. No one seemed to pay much attention; maybe I made Mary’s language even more outlandish! As soon as my part was over, Mary painstakingly began to cast her spell on her audience.

Last conversations with Mary
After we parted at the end of the Feminist Hullaballoo event, Mary and I continued to speak over the phone, as we always had. Mary mentioned again the hedge school. By “hedge school,” she meant a place for wo/men to learn the knowledge of the “Background,” female-centered bio-philic reality. [Read here for more on “hedge school”] Each time I spoke with Mary, she underscored the plausibility of doing it. I said I would join her wherever she would begin her hedge school. I meant that. I would have plunged into Mary’s Hedge School if she had implemented the idea. She probably did not know that when I said I would join her, I was thinking of my second dream.

At one time, Mary had suggested co-authoring a book with me. I told her that that would be great and I would love to do it. One day I asked, “What is your idea of co-writing a book?” She asked me what I would like to write about and what would be the title for it. I said I would definitely write about Mago. Neither of us could come up with a definite title.

Despite our planning for the future, I noticed that Mary’s strength was waning. During the Feminist Hullaballoo conference, I had seen the fear behind her façade. She was facing another life challenge, the necessity of soon moving into assisted living or full-time nursing care. As our time to say good-bye was getting close, I could only watch her without involving myself further. I probably did not tell her how important she was to me and how much I loved her, one who showed me how to make myself a Wo/man. Not all had to be said aloud, however. I intuitively knew that Mary was afraid she was going to lose me (considering that she was perceived as “racist” by non-white feminists), a sense that was confirmed by her in one of our conversations. That made her not to pull me too close to her. Likewise, she may have known that I was afraid of being labeled a “colorless” Dalyan feminist if I got too close to her. Such unspoken apprehension characterized the core dynamic of our friendship. (Daly’s agony at being framed as “racist” and my caution not to be caught in the crossfire of feminist divisions needs another space to be written.) 

My letter to Mary now
“Dear Mary, it has been a while since we did not speak on the phone. I miss that a lot. Here is my conversation for you. I called you and left a message on December 24 of 2009, 10 days before you took off. Did you get that message? [Mary returned Home on January 3rd of 2010. I made phone calls and talked to people about her last days. I figured out that she got my message that I did not let go of our connection till the end.] I am pretty certain that you did! Now gone is the landline phone on which I used to talk with you as well as the house where I used to think of you during my Claremont years. It feels your departure brought some changes in my living too. I moved to a new home and changed my phone number. So everything that used to hold our connections went back to where it was, with you in the Womb of the Universe.

Korean Shaman Performing Ritual

By the way, I named the organization that I have just begun the Mago Hedge School in memory of you. It takes place on-line and off-line. Online spaces include the Mago Circle and the Magoism Blog. Its first face-to-face classroom will be held during the 2013 Mago Pilgrimage to Korea, a historic event for me and hopefully for us all. I know you are coming with us to Korea next June. Did you know how much I longed to invite you to Korea? I once thought that I should have been born about three decades earlier so that I would have been with you in the 1970s. Then, there would have been a chance for you to consider coming to Korea to see the submerged ancient world. It is another whole new Background that you are yet to discover! I did not expect that this kind of time would come to me someday. As the event is getting shaped day by day, I feel like phoning you to tell all about it. Habits die hard.

I have invited many co-teachers with us in the Mago Circle and Magoism Blog. We connect cross-culturally and across continents and dare to dream endless possibilities despite our differences. However, Mago Hedge School also faces lots of challenges. How are we going to realize the Archaic Future that we dream of? What kind of gynocentric leadership should we make for all? Time is not much left. My work won’t be completed until I let my research on Magoism known to the world. Mary, I ask you to bless and protect us! I know you do.”

Mago Circle: https://www.facebook.com/groups/magoism/
Magoism Blog: http://magoism.wordpress.com/
2013 Mago Pilgrimage to Korea: 
http://magoism.wordpress.com/mago-academy/2013-mago-pilgrim-tour-to-korea/

(My deep gratitude goes to Harriet Ann Ellenberger who read the original version and suggested editorial comments with her loving wo/manly spirit.)

[This was first published in Feminism and Religion:
http://feminismandreligion.com/2012/10/30/the-mago-hedge-school-why-remember-mary-daly-by-helen-hye-sook-hwang/]