The Blind Oracle

Introduction for Bethany Copsey and Sofia Batalha by: Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul

The future tends to be daunting, especially when we think of it through the lens of all that is currently broken. Through the following narratives, Bethany and Sofia manage to do two complicated things: pluck the reader from our present moment and the rules that bind it, and infuse in their audience a calm sense of hope. This is no easy feat and both authors accomplish it through quite different methods.

From the very first sentences of her entry, Bethany has her readers 100% engaged. Her entry is as creative as it is bold and unapologetic. Without letting us know what she’ll do or asking if we’re up for the ride, she’s effortlessly transported us to a parallel universe where things are changing for the better. She takes us to a world brave enough to imagine a path and she crafts this environment so eloquently that it does not feel unrealistic.

The moment I began reading this entry, I realised I had been transported someplace else; after that, I just wanted to know more. I wanted for that immersive experience to last. At the same time, I never stopped questioning what I wanted for the future—the challenges I think we’ll face and what solutions could be put in motion to address them. The handwritten texture added to the teacher’s comments and the diary entry just made it all more tangible, real and relatable. Provocative, engaging, timely, innovative and bold. I loved this entry.

With a different hope-producing approach, Sofia focuses on vindication. Her narrative does not play around with a future that might be. Instead, the author dwells in how things could’ve—nay, should’ve—been. She relies on what her instinct finds troubling and uses that to identify misogyny, racism and fear in the narratives written by imperialist views. These imperialists’ views continue to be deemed unquestionable. They often signal out otherness and portray it as less or wrong.

Sofia’s re-writing of the blind prophet Fatima is so evocative that it could easily have been a luscious painting bursting with color. The texture of green leaves, the protuberant tree roots poking out of the land and the fluid movement of mystical women is dreamlike. This idyllic imagined moment is only perturbed by a creeping man and his biases, which impede him from admiring the women in all their grandiosity and, instead, makes him fearful. This is almost a metaphor or our own times and holds such valuable lessons for all readers. Sofia’s narrative does justice to overlooked and misunderstood communities while inviting readers to be critical observers and open-minded narrators.

Fátwa, the elder tattooed Priestess, was tired; for over 50 years, she’d been a devoted apprentice and guardian of this landscape. The old black Priestess had been feeling tired lately, climbing the sacred path to the top, her wrinkly skinny feet scraping the rocks beneath as she walked the steep mountain. Of course, her feet knew the way, so she relied upon them to follow the whispers of the windy path, to find the way between the labyrinths of deep-rooted trees, through the cracks between the boulders, and passing the cold-water streams that write this sacred place, ever cyclical and alive, the geography of prophecy and dreams.

Fátwa was blind, but she moved wildly, sensing through touch, smell, and hearing her way through the shape-shifting topography. Even though some men in the village dumbed her down as a silly old woman, for they were suspicious and very fearful of her power, her movement was reciprocal and responsive to the seasons and the weather. She could smell the changes and trusted the textures and melodies; this place was engraved in her bones. However wrinkled and worn, her brown paper skin was her broad vision and sight, a breathing shawl dialoguing with the living land and all its critters.

Her journey to the sacred mountaintop was made twice a year, following the moon patterns and the seasonal rhythms, opening the ancestral death and fertility collective rites through offerings, chants, and ecstatic presence. But this time, she was not climbing alone; her apprentice was with her, trying to track her footsteps. She would introduce the girl to this great cosmic ecosystem they belonged to and protected fiercely.

A chubby girl moved awkwardly through the mountain edges. Tumbling and falling along, she would not give up, for this pilgrimage was too vital to the sustenance of the community’s balance and abundance. The girl was astonished by the confident wild dance of the blind dark Priestess as she walked lightly along the steep path, not noticing the older woman’s fatigue. Her wide eyes and innocent heart watched in reverence the ritual walking while learning the secrets of each passage. She could hear Fátwa’s chanted breath following a hushed tune, blessing each step, offering seeds and pebbles with hand-drawn charcoal symbols. The girl felt a sparkle of pride, knowing she was the one drawing those ancient symbols for the past six months. The year before, the Priestess taught her how to prepare the charcoal, choose the right wood stick and fire heat, select the pebbles, and draw the sacred symbols. Trace by trace, line by line, moving the body and the soul with each breath.

Now, after walking for three whole days, her feet were hurting, but she was still trying to keep up with Fátwa. Suddenly, beyond a dense myrtle scrub, the girl saw him. Beneath an old oak tree, there he was, a wild white ibex. She had never seen one so close, which was daunting; his outlandish eyes, fierce long horns, and vibrating muscles. She could swear he was waiting for them, acknowledging and consecrating their passage in the dim light of early evening. Ever so lightly, Fátwa caressed his stormy fur, and cold rain started pouring down their warm bodies at that precise moment. His restless and mischievous spirit leaped forward and disappeared into the cliffs. Hence, they continued the narrow trail.

A few moments later, the sun was almost set, pouring into the sky with purple and orange streaks as they reached the sacred mountaintop. The girl’s heart raced for the vast and open view above the clouds, and the Priestess whispered, ‘The moon and the sun are dark, and we will ask for dreams tonight.’ The rain had subsided now, and Fátwa lit a small fire, conjuring the blessings of Bona Dea. Around that small fire, they sang with the stars, the wind, and the rocks—their voices in deep resonance for hours through the darkness. The girl had never before felt the potent untamed land in her bones, the power of the elements making her body vibrate. She could hear the mountain roar, and her body could listen to the elements speaking. She did not know if she was dreaming or awake. The girl tried to use her eyes to see, but they did not respond, remaining shut. Swirling, she felt agitated while touching the primal embrace of the cosmic entanglement. While Bona Dea wrapped her in a stellar shawl, enveloping her body in wild kinship and deep time omens. She felt embraced by Life itself, touched by its warmth and fierce power.

Upon opening her eyes, it was day again, with the sun blinding her with its early morning light, and the elderly tattooed woman smiled widely at her; it seemed she could see her with her opaque eyes. The young woman stared in vast astonishment at her freshly tattooed hands, the charcoal symbols now imprinted on her skin like a constellation of remembrance. Right at her side was a fox smelling the air and greeting her with her eyes. The young woman felt she was finally home, knowing the language of mystery. Together with Fátwa, they would dance down the sacred mountain, bringing seasonal omens to their community.

The Sonnet

Francisco Manuel de Mello was a seventeenth-century Portuguese lyrical and baroque poet, politician, and diplomat, who also pursued a military career. His Obras Métricas were published in May 1665. The author lived less than one hundred years before the ‘illuminist,’ reductionist, linear, racial, philosophical trajectory of European thought settled in, although those ideas were already well underway. This particular sonnet was printed almost two centuries after the beginning of the inquisition trials and executions that violently crushed and silenced old land wisdom in Europe. Also, almost two hundred years after the first colonial invasions around the globe, so European nations were already at war with the land, each other, and the rest of the world to extract resources, territories, and enslave people. Modernity was actively being assembled.

The Fatuous Blind Woman

(translated from old Portuguese)

I heard the priest one day

in his rant

Of a particular woman, there was,

Who at that time, when he saw,

Like the fox, she was cunning.

But then, all of a sudden

A bad air blinded her sight;

She became continental blind:

But it was so lightly,

That she was not sad but joyful.

All around people

Were grave upon her;

But what answer did she tell them?

The sun darkened,

That I see better than before.

That’s what happens to some doctors,

Who, in what they wish to want

Think by minor faults

To change the sun’s glory,

Before their own opinion.

(Francisco Manuel de Melo, Obras Metricas, églog. II, est. 77 ff.)

What Does the Original Sonnet Say?

Briefly, we can presume that a Christian priest recounts a story of a woman who suddenly became utterly blind ‘because of bad air,’ which is usually a metaphor for plagues, illnesses, and bad omens or magic. This woman was foolish, vain, and petulant, taking it too joyful and lightly, for she assumed that it was the sun that darkened, and she saw better than before. She refers to the darkened sun instead of her blindness, claiming her stubbornness and defiance, alluding to an ignorant reaction. In insensate wit, she even dares to compare herself to some physicians who would first change the sun’s glory before revising their minds.

Re-weaving the Sonnet

The recounting of this tale in the ‘Blind Oracle’ is not intended as a literary critique of the original sonnet’s metric, structure, or form. It is undoubtedly not a personal or historical commentary of the author, nonetheless holding that the seventeen-century European philosophical perspectives percolate his writing, like the dumbing down of the woman in the sonnet. These invisible assumptions permeate the idea of ‘high civilisational knowledge’—male, technological, moral, and soon-to-be scientific—claiming the western mindset is on top of that hierarchy.

Instead, this storied essay is a humble observation and an arational, creative fabulation subverting the invisible cultural threads that weave this European, Christian, misogynist, imperial, and colonial undertone in this specific mindset. To this day, such cultural structure is a ‘global/absolute monolithic truth’ and is perceived as the only valid way to understand and intervene in the world. The concern is that these cultural claims are still alive and hidden today, taken as normality in the average European and modern Western attitude.

Underneath Seventeenth-Century Words

We should not forget the seventeen-century legacy of the European Renaissance: the revival of early classic (pagan) Greek culture and the still active ancient shamanic practices in rural areas. Taking that into account, what if, in the invisible threads of this simple sonnet, we could still brush the worn-out fabric of ancestral pre-christian beliefs, ceremonies, and other ways of knowing?

What if dumbing the woman down as ignorant and foolish was a way to undermine and domesticate her primal power, silencing her somatic place-based wisdom?

What if her fox’s cunning abilities refer to her wild and elemental ecological knowledge?

What if, in her wit and defiance, the power of ritual, paradox, and old prophecies lived?

What if the woman’s sudden ‘continental blindness’ refers to an ancient, deep, and wide ecstatic relation to the land?

What if the blackened sun was an alchemical symbol for inner vision shape-shifting in death and fertility rites?

What if she touched the Lunar cyclical power when defying the sun’s glory?

But what if this imprudent and ignorant woman was a priestess of an ancient and complex ecology of chthonic gods? What if, concealed in the lines of the defiant and unaware woman, were old and invisible threads of place guardianship and land sovereignty?

Uncovered in Translation

The sonnet ‘The Fatuous Blind Woman’ can be read and translated in many ways. In Portuguese, the original title is ‘Cega Fátua.’ Cega means blind, from the Latin cæcus, and Fátua may imply a first name Fátima, Fatma (one who is beautiful like the stars), and even Fátwa in Arabic (meaning injunction/ruling) —not forgetting that the Moors were rulers of the Iberian Peninsula for 700 years, from 711 CE. There is also the Portuguese affinity with Fátima, a town named after a Moorish princess, being a place of communal apparitions of old feminine chthonic entities that weave root dialogues with the wild Iberian mythological cartography. These apparitions have been deciphered under a Christianised lens, although having symbolic resonances with old chthonic goddesses: olive and oak trees, shepherds, and sacred ecological knowledge.

Fátua as a word also means someone foolish, infatuated, vain for no reason, petulant, presuming, insensate, or imprudent. And Fátua is likewise the name of an ancient Roman goddess, also known as Fauna, signifying ‘the Speaker,’ ‘She Who Speaks Prophecy,’ or ‘the Oracle.’ Fátua or Fauna was the feminine counterpart of Faunus, a liminal wild-horned god similar to the Greek Pan. In the sonnet, it is presumed that the woman talks gibberish and foolish things, while her name or qualifying word weaves an archaic connection to an ancient sacred speech and oracle goddess.

The goddess Fátua shares the epitaph ‘Bona Dea’ with the queen of the Gods, Cybele Fatua, the archaic sacred mother of mountains, a Phrygian (modern-day Turkey) forest goddess, later incorporated into the Roman pantheon, and also present in the Iberian Peninsula. She was worshipped as a black stone and is said to give the power of speech and voice to women and small children. There are profound connections between this original black goddess Cybele, Roman Diana, and Cretan Artemis. The last two, Diana and Artemis, had profound affinities with female independence, birth, hunting, and the wild, along with goat-men like Greek Pan and Dionysus, or Roman Faunus, Silvanus, and Bacchus. The oak tree is sacred to Diana, and she has ties with later Saint Lucia, the light bearer, a Christian saint who plucked her own eyes, recollecting the archaic ritual blindness.

Furthermore, in the context of the ‘blindness’ brought forth by the sonnet, it is essential to re-kindle the connection between ‘not seeing, not knowing’ and ceremonial ecstatic and primal prophetic powers. For instance, here in the Iberian Peninsula, there are archaeological findings from the Neolithic period (4000 BC): engraved black stone slates called ‘occulated idols,’ named after their big open eyes, recalling the Greek words koikýllô (‘to widen one’s eyes for a reason of astonishment’) or koikylíôn (‘what widens the eyes for a reason of astonishment’). These triangle-patterned, wide-eyed slab idols are found in ancestral tombs throughout the southern territory of the peninsula, similar to ritual engraved slabs from Kemet, the black land of Egypt.

Re-weaving all these threads, complex ancient patterns emerge, like the retelling of Fátwa, the Blind Priestess. Awakening other ways of perceiving reality through senses other than vision, quantifying metrics or facts, and bridging gaps that honour different and indigenous practices of walking and sensing the world instead of silencing them as foolish or ignorant. The Blind Priestess tangled her story through me from a place of consecrated sovereignty, owning her sacred body, acknowledging her disability, and ecstatically celebrating the deep and complex ecological and systemic knowledge she holds.

May our Western minds remember how to belong and fiercely protect our landscapes, regenerating our consciousness back from the wasteland and the ruins of modernity!

♥ Thank you to Robert Wanalo for letting me know about the contest, and so much gratitude to Annabelle Berrios and Gayathri Ramachandran for the deep-caring time devoted to reading and offering suggestions on this storied essay.

Sofia Batalha

Mammal, author, woman-mother, and question-weaver, one day at a time. Awkward prose-poet with no grammatical knowledge. Pilgrim through inner and outer landscapes, remembering ancient earth practices, in radical presence, active listening, eco-psychology, art, ecstasy, and writing. Author of eight books, editor of the free online magazine, Wind and Water, Re-member the Bones Podcast, and Beyond the Sea Conversations — all in Portuguese.

More information: or Instagram: @serpentedalua

I embrace eco-psychology, eco-philosophy and eco-spirituality, decolonisation, and multiple art forms. Speaking from mythological and philosophical post-activism. Activism drains, tires, and tends to make us too sad and heavy. There is a precipice that separates activist hyper-realism, from the mystery of things. Activists are depressed and anxious from too much news and constant tragic reporting. Always trying to find, plan and organise actions, solutions and act on responsibility. It is exhausting.

It is essential to recover both individual and communal medial management tools for bonding and connection, where we can recreate rituals, stories, and mystery. The three M’s: Mystery, Metaphors, and Myths recall our primal and complex wisdom of paradox.



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