What Is Women’s Visionary Fiction?  Part I – Guest Post By Mary Mackey

Women’s Visionary Fiction is not a new type of Visionary Fiction. It has been around for decades if not centuries. In fact, for all of recorded history (and thousands of years before writing existed) women have been associated with visions, mystical experiences, spiritual powers, magic, the ability to bring new life into the world, heal the sick, and speak to the dead.

When women authors finally cracked the Paper Ceiling of Publishing in the early 1970’s, they began to draw on their visionary heritage as they struggled for cultural recognition and spiritual identity.

The best of Women’s Visionary Fiction is not preachy or didactic. Mystical, flowing, beautifully crafted, it draws on folk traditions and esoteric sources as it creates new worlds, explores the after-life, and evokes other states of consciousness and other realities. Yet many of the early examples, fine they are, still remain unknown except to a small audience of readers.

Cover of Waterlilly by Ella Deloria

For example, in 1940, Native American author Ella Deloria wrote Waterlilly, a visionary novel that takes as its subject Lakota (Sioux) culture before the Lakota had contact with Europeans. This fascinating recreation of Lakota rituals, culture, and spiritual life, was not published until 1988, nearly twenty years after Deloria’s death.

In the past half century, women have written visionary fiction about witches, midwives, herbal healers, priestesses, goddesses, fairies, oracles, and angels. In fact, sometimes the authors themselves have been witches, midwives, herbal healers, and priestesses. Take for example Starhawk, San Francisco’s most famous witch. Her novel The Fifth Sacred Thing (Bantam, 1993), is a post-apocalyptic vision of the San Francisco Bay Area as a newly created ecological paradise governed by a council of elderly women who are guided by their dreams.                                                                                                           

Cover of The Fifth Sacred Thing by StarhawkUsually, as in The Fifth Sacred Thing, Women’s Visionary Fiction takes as its subject the path of peace rather than the path of war. But this is not universally true. Maxine Hong Kingston’s visionary autobiography The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (Knopf, 1976), not only redefines what it means to be a Chinese American woman; it blends folk-tales, legends, and visions to create a fierce woman warrior with magical powers.

Since the 1990’s the growth of the Women’s Spirituality Movement has inspired women to write visionary fiction about the Earth as a living Goddess. Sometimes known as the Gaia Hypothesis, this idea that the Earth is not real estate to be developed, but a living being to be cared for is slowly making its way into popular culture.


The Year The Horses Came Hardback Cover

Three of my own novels, The Year The Horses Came, The Horses at the Gate, and The Fires of Spring, take the living Earth as their subject. Written for a popular audience, they recreate the religious rituals, visions, poetry, and mystical bonds between the Earth and the Goddess-worshiping cultures of Neolithic Europe. My new novel The Village of Bones, which will be published some time in 2016, continues my visionary exploration of the Gaia Hypothesis as it explores the possibility that small bands of human-like survivors (hominids) were the original inspiration for the stories of fairies, gnomes, elves, and other magical creatures, which appear so often in European folk tales.

In Part II of this series, I will discuss some of the major works of Women’s Visionary Fiction in more detail and answer the question: Can Men Write Women’s Visionary Fiction?


  • Syllabi for courses in Women’s Visionary Fiction, Women’s Visionary Poetry, and Women’s Visionary Film can be found on my Educators Page at marymackey.com
  • To get the latest news about Women’s Visionary Fiction and my forthcoming novel The Village of Bones, click here.



MaryMackey8791LoResWEB(1)Mary Mackey, Ph.D. writes visionary novels, poems, and film scripts. A Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Sacramento, she is the author of thirteen novels and seven collections of poetry including Sugar Zone, winner of the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. Garrison Keillor has featured her poetry four times on The Writer’s Almanac. Her novels have made The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller Lists and been translated into twelve languages. She is presently working a visionary novel entitled The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale, a prequel to her best-selling novel The Year The Horses Came. Mary welcomes your questions and comments at http://marymacky.com where, you can sample her work, read her interview series People Who Make Books Happen, and sign up to get the latest news about her visionary fiction and poetry. You can also Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @MMackeyAuthor. Mary’s literary papers are archived at the Sophia Smith Special Collections Library at Smith College in Northampton, MA.





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14 Responses to What Is Women’s Visionary Fiction?  Part I – Guest Post By Mary Mackey

  1. Mary, I love exploring this topic and thank you for your discussion, and for providing such excellent resources! Visionary Fiction is path-cutting and I think women have a unique role in this burgeoning genre. This does not dismiss men's contribution to VF at all. However, the perspectives, history, and experiences of a women are unique to womanhood and can be tapped into to creatively express the themes inherent in VF. As you say in your article – "In fact, sometimes the authors themselves have been witches, midwives, herbal healers, and priestesses." This would make for a great round table discussion!


  2. What a great post. I know these books for the most part. Looking forward to part two.


  3. Hello Mary. Your post comes at an opportune time. When I re-hauled my website this year (blending three websites into one), I needed to define what I write in just a few words for my subtitle. I chose Women's Visionary Fiction, which both clarified and more narrowly constricted my audience. I understand Ella Deloria's predicament. As do many, if not most, Visionary Fiction writers. I read the following quote by Annie Besant today: " A myth is far truer than a history, for a history only gives a story of the shadows, whereas a myth gives a story of the substances that cast the shadows." We as Visionary Fiction writers write stories "of the substances that cast the shadows," and I hope the time has come where there is a market for this type of fiction. Thank you for your contribution to the VFA.


  4. D. Thrush says:

    My first book is a Women's Visionary Fiction novel. I wanted to gather my own experiences and those that had been related to me in one story from a female perspective. I wanted to write a female "Way of the Peaceful Warrior," but I didn't want anyone to rescue her or guide her. I wanted her to find and realize her own power. The story is also about balancing male and female power and energy. I'm about to rewrite the story to make it stronger. Great post!


    • Mary Mackey says:

      I love that you have decided to show a balance between male and female power. In my novels the female characters are brave (scared sometimes but brave), persistent, gentle whenever possible, and fierce when peace is not an option. Two good examples are Sabalah, the main character in my forthcoming novel "The Village of Bones," and Marrah, the main character in a series of three of my novels ("The Year The Horses Came," "The Horses at the Gate," and "The Fires of Spring." Nobody rescues them. They rescue others, save lives, try to heal the Earth. Good luck with your first novel.


  5. Thank you, Mary , for your excellent contribution to the VFA. As one of the rare dedicated VF scholars in academia, your voice is so welcome. In the Wikipedia article compilation I did, I tried to point up visionary fiction's roots in medieval women's literature by citing the work of Flo Keyes; yours belongs there as well and I'll add it next time unless someone beats me to it.

    As one of the rarer guys here and one who believes strongly that masculine/feminine balance is a goal for all human beings, I won't get into a "sexist" power struggle (I'll lose!). However, the male versus female conflict is one I would like to see explored more by VF writers. How that is resolved is certainly integral to the Hero's Journey. Robert Bly's Iron John shows how myth illustrates the male hero's journey (it is not VF, but the original story of Iron John is). I wonder what works you would consider outstanding explanations and/or examples of the Heroine's Journey.


    • Mary Mackey says:

      Thanks for your long and interesting comment, Victor. I'm going to talk more about the Heroine's Journey in Part II, but one outstanding example that immediately comes to mind (besides my own novels), is "The Woman Warrior" by Maxine Hong Kingston.


  6. Women's Visionary Fiction puts women visionary characters at the forefront with their own unique perspective. Thanks for writing about this subject. I read with interest the books you are writing. A theme in my book series, Urweltchronicles, is the faerie human connection but differs in that it see faeries as a separate distinct race from human beings. You might be interested in an Arthurian legend perspective of this relationship found in Wendy Berg's non-fiction visionary fiction (if there is such a thing) called Red Tree White Tree.


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