Chanting the Feminine Down by James C. McCullagh with Roy McCullagh

Reviewed by Chris Phillips

Chanting the Feminine DownOddly enough, when an author subtitles his book it is often more about the author then the book. However, McCullaugh here declares this to be a “Psychological, Religious and Historical Novel,” he is not being disingenuous.

This story is well researched and well documented. It is a tribute to the author’s dedication and abilities in research and correlation of large amounts of data and information. The author provides source references and other interesting information at his website, Chanting the Feminine Down.

Colette Maria McGovern is a troubled young woman. She is finishing her education at a Jesuit-ran college in New York City. Her assignment for a thesis in one class is on the subject of the council of Trent. She is a dreamer. She has visions. She visits and lives in historical settings with a vivid imagination supplying the details that make her dream even more so. These make her have even more visions. Fortunately, she keeps a dream journal which she wisely revisits from time to time. Her dreams become more troubling and even more disconcerting as her tale develops.

She is aided in this thesis by many persons. These encounters with real and imagined persons fill her thoughts almost driving her to the brink of sanity.

One character is her mother, Patricia, who is a “typical” Catholic mother. Patricia is full of advice, admonition and constant berating of Colette as Patricia feels is her duty. Of course, as a devout Latin-service Catholic, Patricia puts mounds of guilt and passive-aggressive conversation into Colette’s life and especially during this troubling time of Colette’s education.

Colette has her advisor professor, Jesuit priest, Rev. Gleason. Colette always refers to her professors as Professor because she wishes to avoid more religion in her life that would come from calling them Father. He discusses her choice of thesis subject with much caution and many questions about why she shouldn’t be choosing such a boring council.

After some of her more troubling dreams begin, she sees the school counselor, O’Connell. He provides some insights as she discusses some but, very pointedly, not all of her dreams. This brings in the first character that Collette’s imagination brings into the story, Carl Jung. Apparently among the other lessons she has learned, Carl Jung’s psychology and written insights begin and continue to play very heavily on how Colette adjusts to her dreams and visions.

The next important person, actual persons, are many poetic writers and artists from the time of the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563). There are many of these influences. However, the culmination of this is Colette’s poem “Chanting the Feminine Down” which she posts on the church doors and at various other places in her reality. This becomes the defining moment for her, the story and what transpires thereon.

The next major character cannot be ignored. Professor Merkel, is a self-described take-no-prisoners Jesuit with very theatric takes on many of his lessons. It all begins with the Jesuits who land in Brazil around the same time that the Council of Trent is being held in Italy. From there through many different performances, Colette and Merkel, act out the events that she finds, imagines and even writes about eventually.

The characters are thoroughly researched and developed. There is no lack of tension even when much of the real action occurs within these dreams that Colette faithful records and then reviews with notes and comments.

The book’s major draw is the intensity that Colette feels these dreams and her thesis of bringing the feminine into Catholic mass contrary to the Council of Trent.

The story is straight forward, but the struggles that Colette endures while attempting to get a handle and a useful perspective on the council of Trent make the storyline both intense, thought provoking and very deep for a novel.

The author has done well to deliver on his subtitle.

This is an interesting novel for any readers. The depth and intensity might suggest adult readers, but mature young adults would probably enjoy it as well. The interactions do require some experience with psychology, religion and the history especially of the Catholic church, and the Counter-Reformation movement of the time of the Council.

Highly recommended to most readers.

5/5 Stars.