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Reclaiming the Past 

by Sheri Boggs

Say you're the adopted daughter of not only a celebrity, but one of Hollywood's most notorious icons. Say you also wrote not only a book, but a lurid memoir that simultaneously exposed your abusive mom while spawning the recovery movement of the '80s and '90s. Say your book became not only a movie but a terrifying, campy film starring Faye Dunaway and featuring one of the most unusual taglines ("No more wire hangers") in movie history. You could continue to try to ride your famous name, maybe duking it out in the acting trenches of New York or L.A. You could pull a Liza Minelli and become the darling of drag queens and tabloid publishers everywhere. Or you could just move to North Idaho, keep writing books and invent a life more satisfying than anything you've ever had before.

Christina Crawford, author of Mommie Dearest (as well as four other books) has done just that. She lives on 10 acres near Tensed and handles special events promotion for the Coeur d'Alene Casino. When not booking the likes of Joan Jett or John Michael Montgomery for the casino, Crawford has the time and space in which to take on a project like her latest book, Daughters of the Inquisition -- a harrowing history of women's experiences during the period of the Inquisition.

"My initial curiosity about the Inquisition comes from the fact that I've always been involved with issues of social justice, from before the time I wrote Mommie Dearest and beyond," Crawford explains. "And as I learned more about the Inquisition, I discovered that it was the greatest incident of social injustice in history."

Daughters of the Inquisition is Crawford's exhaustively researched foray into 700 years of church-and-state-condoned persecution of women. She describes how the Catholic Church's drive to stamp out heresy was also intended to dispense with matriarchal cultures and -- in particular -- to rob women of their land and any other forms of material wealth. In the process, Crawford writes, families were destroyed, women were systematically broken and a new gender imbalance emerged in which men were considered legally, intellectually, politically and physically superior to women (with most women being relegated to near-chattel status). But because history -- as it is so often said -- is written by the victors, most people don't know about the other side of the story.

"If one envisions split-screen technology in TV, if you envision the story of humanity, only one side had a picture," she says. "But in researching these older, goddess-worshipping societies that existed before the Inquisition, there is so much there for us as a modern society to learn. These societies can serve as models for peaceful, ecologically sound existence. Take farming, for instance. There were civilizations that would often live in the same place for 10,000 years, and they knew things about farming that we don't even know. They could farm the same plot of land for several thousand years, whereas now we engage in the massive use of industrial strength fertilizers and pesticides and even then can only farm a piece of land for about 50 years."

While Crawford's body of work points to a lifelong journey of healing (she is also the author of No Safe Place: The Legacy of Family Violence), she also understands that in many ways -- and especially within the historical context -- you can't go home again.

"We can't go back, I know that," she says. "But what these societies hold for us is a different way of being on this Earth. For so long we've always assumed that violence is just intrinsic to human nature. My hope is that if we can think outside our current socialization, a book like this might generate a national dialogue."

Although Crawford pursued acting for a while (in both New York and L.A.), it was a visit to a friend in Spokane more than 10 years ago that set her on her current course. Driving around the area, she fell in love with North Idaho and moved here permanently in the early 1990s. She continues to volunteer her skills for various social justice organizations and also runs her own small press (Seven Springs, which published Daughters of the Inquisition). She also says that she has no intention of leaving her gig at the casino to return to the stage.

"I love my work," she says. "The process of writing is so solitary, that my job is actually great fun. Any desire I have for performing is really satisfied by the public side of my job. I like my eclectic life here. I love that I can go from mowing the yard to speaking to a thousand people at a convention."

Publication date: 04/29/04

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