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Secret Lives
by Barbara Ardinger


Barbara Ardinger


Being of the male persuasion I had my doubts as to how much I would relate to and be drawn into a novel about a group of older women who follow Goddess traditions and teachings. After reading Secret Lives I now see that my doubts were wholly unfounded and that Barbara Ardinger has written a marvelous book that is engaging, heartwarming and even instructive if you are open to the spirit in which this novel was written. The grandmothers, the daughters and the granddaughters of this novel are well drawn characters that personify the struggles that women in general face living in a world that still sees them as worth less than their male counterparts but in particular it also delves into the struggles that women face who follow a spiritual path that does not adhere to a patriarchal model that has come to dominate this modern world we live in.

Barbara Ardinger wisely set this story in the late 1980's because it was a time of transition that many of us in the pagan community lived through first hand.  She did this so that we would immediately empathize with the characters of her novel as they faced similar changes in how they approached their spirituality and society in general. The resistance that Emma Clare showed to how things were changing around her is indicative of many who came out of her generation that see the world as evolving but not necessarily for the better. It is always easier to stay out of the fray and not risk exposing who you really are and what you really believe to people who at the very least simply won't understand what you are about and who at the most might even persecute you for ideas that you hold. Barbara is able to contrast these views within Secret Lives through characters that span several generations and have different takes on how engaged the grandmothers should become in modern society.

Barbara was able to create realistic, three dimensional characters in her book that dealt with issues that seniors face every day in this country and that many of us will be facing ourselves in the years to come. The characters did not live in a fantasy world that was all sunshine and rainbows but rather in a world that we would easily recognize when it comes to how seniors are regarded in this country in which we live. I see Secret Lives as an indictment of any society that discards its seniors when their perceived usefulness has come to an end while doting on the next up and coming generation as the solution to all our problems. Through the course of this novel Barbara continually shows everyone that the seniors at Center Towers are a force not to be toyed with and certainly not to be underestimated.

 Those within the pagan community will find several references in this novel that will make them smile or simply nod their heads in agreement as they recognize situations arising from the time period as many began "coming out of the closet" about their beliefs. I'm sure you will remember the endless discussions that happened around this time about whether the "secret" or "oath bound" knowledge was something that should be kept hidden from the masses or shared with everyone through the burgeoning pagan publishing industry. Whether it was better to fight the world head on out of the closet or work behind the scenes to effect change in people's attitudes about alternative spiritual paths. And of course the discussions of what will become of these teachings once this generation of elders dies off without having imparted their wisdom to the next generation. These are all themes that Barbara has woven into Secret Lives in a way that makes them not only thought provoking but also entertaining as well.

The book is a hefty 630 pages long as a trade paperback but I found that Barbara's writing style kept the pace of the novel moving along at a good clip and so I never found myself bored or bogged down in the story but instead felt myself pulled forward into each new chapter. While it may sound like Barbara's novel is all seriousness and deep lessons it is certainly much more than that. As in any good plot it has some surprises, some action of course some humor and wit scattered throughout its pages in varying amounts. While this novel is grounded very deeply in the reality of our modern world Barbara also incorporates her imagination into the storyline at times and allows the reader to soar on the wings of fantasy into other worlds and other times. One of my favorites when it comes to Barbara’s imagination is the character of Madame Blavatsky and no she's not who you might think. I'm sure you will enjoy her as much as I did.

All in all Barbara has done a great job with this novel and even though she is primarily known as an author of non-fiction spirituality books I'm sure that this work will be welcomed by her followers and fans as a brilliant addition to the body of material that Barbara has written to this point in her career. I tend to be picky in the fiction that I consume in written form but I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to all my readers out there who want to spend some quality time being educated and entertained at the same time. Barbara's words ring true when it comes to the modern day Goddess movement and the struggles it faces to find equal footing in a world dominated by patriarchal systems of spirituality. Thanks to Secret Lives I feel like I better understand those struggles and I can sympathize even more deeply with those who have followed this path long before it became fashionable to do so. As Siskel and Ebert used to say about movies...two thumbs way up for Secret Lives by Barbara Ardinger.

Reviewed by Imajicka, editor The Wiccan/Pagan Times