Moniru Ravanipur's "Satan's Stones" is a short story in a collection of short stories of the same name. The story is set in the remote regions of Iran where it explore facets of relationships in contemporary Iranian life, particularly ever-shifting relations that can be found in the rural villages. This story represents a literary experimentation and a new style in Persian fiction in the vein of "magical realism." The fundamentalist Iranian government has banned "Satan's Stones." Its openly frank explorations of these relationships in Iranian society offends the majority of Islamic leaders in the modern Islamic Republic of Iran.
While the literary style in "Satan's Stones" is an issue, a much deeper one is the evocation of the Iranian past, particularly a non-Islamic Zoroastrian Persian past that antedates the Islamic period and with an eclectic folk magical tradition that flourished during times in Iranian history when the Shiite society was more liberal and has went into seclusion when times are repressive. In Zoroastrian tradition, women are treated equally with men and a male is not needed to deliver the honor of the family in the next life (Jayaram).
It is this more level playing field and a more respectful male attitude toward the female half. In this vein, Maryam's relationship with the old matron is critical in translating the abstract world of the stories of the djinn into a concrete present reality that will uplift women in the eyes of Shiite Iranians. Iranians have heard such stories straight from the mouths of the mullahs which they believe in as religious dogma. It is this "kosher" entrance to the pre-Muslim Iranian heritage that Ravanipur is attempting to use. Also, selecting a figure named Maryam secures the heroine a respected place in the present world of Orthodox Shiite Islam. She is the connection with the present Iranian woman.
A. The World of Abstract Perception
1. Maryam as a Heroine in Islam
Ravanipur's magical realism is not just in the past. She moves into the Islamic era in a complete way by identifying her heroine Maryam with the one positively portrayed woman in the Koran, Maryam and her relationship with her older Aunt and matron Anna (Channah in Arabic) (Pennington). The use of Maryam as a transformative instrument directly relates back to the abstract idea of Maryam as relationship to the old tradition represented by the old matron and bringing it into the present Shiite reality to try to raise the perception of the value and role of women in contemporary Iranian society. However, there is a definite double symbolism as the old Matron chides a village woman for seeing her as a vision of the "Virgin Mary (Rav-n?
p-r, and Ghanoonparvar, 6)."
2. Pre-Islamic Tradition
Unfortunately, things become even more difficult for the matron. She is scared and shuts the windows shutters with a bang (Rav-n?
p-r, and Ghanoonparvar, 5). Like the old Zoroastrian traditions, she is locked away in a closet or behind closed doors, just as the Zoroastrians would have secluded an unclean menstruating woman. While the villagers have relied upon her in the past to combat the black djinn, they can not admit it openly.
To battle the djinn, she needs the magical bowl from which at 14 years of age divines that she must remain a virgin forever to fulfill her live mission (ibid, 6-7). The incantation bowl that the matron uses to combat the djinn is definitely a link with a pre-Islamic past with ancient folk mystical Judaism and perhaps even Mandaen traditions where the device is an important magical object. The demon they may be trying to ward off is Lilith, the fabled first partner of Adam who refuses to follow his sexual dictates and who now preys upon human infants both during and immediately after birth. It is meant to trap the evil spirit by being turned upside down over them and then made into a protective part of a house's foundation. Written on the inside of the bowl are personal details about the person, her family, the names of God and also the names of demons, particularly Lilith (Kedar).
Perhaps it is the incantation bowl that is particularly offensive to the Iranian authorities because of the Jewish connection to an ancient Gnostic religious tradition that is out of the control of the Muslim clergy that rule Iran, especially in rural Iran among non-Persian minorities, including non-Muslims. It empowers its adherents outside of the authority of the Koran. This cross-cultural magical, religious tradition is likely still in effect as Ravanipur is relating an incident that she heard about or witnessed personally in her life in rural Iran. In this tradition, women are treated more equally with men, though they are not on a par as modern Westerners would see as proper.
Also, when a neighbor woman was in delivery, the old matron pulls a burning palm leaf from a brazier to ward off the djinns (Rav-n?
p-r, and Ghanoonparvar, 8). The belief in the djinn is confirmed among the people due to its acceptance and transmission by Islamic clerics (Donaldson 185 -- 194) . This is a definite hearkening back to the Sassanid Persian Zoroastrian sacred fires that provided light before the present Islamic nightmare came into being in the Revolution. In the opinion of this author, this is the light of enlightenment that Ravanipur is trying to bring back. In the Zoroastrian tradition, fire conveys purity and fights impurity. In the case of the woman in delivery, this the impurity brought out by the blood present at birth. In addition, in the Zorastrian tradition, pregnant women light lamps and fires as a protective measure (Beyer) .
The Concrete Shiite Reality of Maryam and the Matron's Relationship
In this case, the setting is in a village in the rural area surrounding Shiraz, Iran. The author, Ravanipur was from a village called Jofreh and raised in the Iranian provincial capital of Shiraz ("Mage.com"). In additon, Shiraz still retains a large Jewish community, the most observant in all of Iran, a community that Ravanipur certainly would have encountered. Therefore, "Satan's Stones" is likely at least partly biographical in content and nature.
In the essay, this author talk about how they understand the transformative nature of Maryam's relationship with the village matron. This will be done using the interpretative concept of moving from an abstract perception to a more concrete reconsideration of Maryam's relationship. Particularly, the incident where the elderly matron is witnessed involved in the performance of the fire purification and incantation bowl rituals mentioned above to counteract the power of the djinn (Lilith) and allow the matron to function normally as a midwife to young pregnant women in delivery. The water used in the delivery is put into the incantation bowl, linking the old pre-Islamic magical folklore with present by providing purification before, during and after the birth process. However, the Islamic regime, represented by Gholam the gendarme is opposed to the matron when he is in the village on patrol (Rav-n?
p-r, and Ghanoonparvar, 4).
Given the same cultural understandings, like Maryam, any person (even a man) can put themselves in the same place and perceive the transformation of Iranian society from the old pre-Islamic world to the new Shiite reality. Unfortunately, the transition is not smooth. However, the matron goes on with her devotion to the village, ministering to their needs without hesitation (ibid). The observer is therefore left witnessing a draw. The concrete reality is a government which is against the traditions, but powerless to completely stamp them out from a rural society that makes use of their services in their times of need.
To sum up, Moniru Ravanipur's "Satan's Stones" is a short story in her collection of short stories of the same name. This story represents a literary…