Haigan (pronounced Hī-gän) is one of my two favorite characters in this book. She started out with the usual motivations … stature in society, a title, some girl power. But the more I wrote her the more complex she became. And, admittedly, it has been her chapters that I’ve enjoyed writing the most. Her significance in the story comes later on, but in this chapter you now know that she lived a human life before and through some event or process she came to be among Shaitan’s jinni. I will say that Haigan’s life is the lens through which we view the transitions between the human world and the realm of angels. There is a chapter later on that will tell you what happened to her after she disappeared from the Biltmore, but I shouldn’t give away any more. Although her exact origin and how she and her Father came to live at the Biltmore Estate is still a mystery to me, I am inclined to think and feel, that she will continue to have the role of a revealer. Stay tuned. But more than anyone else, Haigan has had to endure the most change. Indeed, in her own eyes, she has evolved from Elizabeth Pickett to the Mistress Haigan.
While we are on the topic of transitions, I felt greatly validated in having chosen the Biltmore as a setting for this part of the story when I realized Haigan’s role in highlighting the idea of transformations in the book. The Gilded Age was in full swing and the south was going through many changes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There are many assumptions about how George W. Vanderbilt created such a large sanctuary for himself, and one of the biggest assumptions made was about how he acquired all 125,000 acres of land and whether or not they were slave owners. Naturally, the running conjecture is that he displaced a hell of a lot of people – black, white, Native American, basically everybody. And that, of course, they owned slaves. As it turns out, these assumptions are questionable. I found this very interesting article about the research of Dr. Darin Waters, a native of Asheville, who set about the task of understanding the role of black communities in Asheville, North Carolina and how they related to the Biltmore Estate. http://endeavors.unc.edu/fall2009/more_than_biltmore.php.
What he found was counterintuitive. First, the vast majority of the original Biltmore lands were bought from mostly white farmers. Second, Not only were members of the black community doing business with the Biltmore estate, by providing labor and services (he learned that his own great-Grandfather, Louis Waters, had a business hauling away construction debris from the estate), the “displaced” communities were actually relocated upon mutual agreement. Dr. Waters sites the community of Shiloh from which he hails and where his brother continues to live as an example of successful relocation. In addition to compensation, Mr. Vanderbilt also provided infrastructure to support the new community. He also pointed to other ways in which homegrown ideas that originated from the black communities were supported by Mr. Vanderbilt and refuted Dr. Waters’ own long-held belief that these endeavors were a form of handout. But most of all, his findings go against the traditional stereotype of the illiterate black slave who eked out a survival-based existence. Dr. Waters, had found, instead, an educated community that built itself through work they secured and negotiated on their own terms. Sadly, this was not representative of the entire black population in Asheville or the South, more broadly. In the post-civil war era, the vast majority of black communities continued to struggle for as long as their white counterparts were provided more opportunities and the socio-economic system continued to reflect the belief that nature itself placed non-caucasians in all manner of position lower than caucasians. Nevertheless, the value of the exceptions, the outliers are significant in as much as we now know they existed. The silver lining, the ray of sunshine through the clouds, whatever it is we want to call them – they deserve remembrance too. Because they showed us hope, tenacity, perseverance and courage.
So why is this important? Well, the underlying theme of the book is evolution which is a form of change. Unlike change, however, evolution suggests a higher order, a more sophisticated level of change. It assumes a change for the betterment of the one evolved. When it comes to societal evolution, I remain confused and disheartened. It seems as though humans are stuck fighting the same battles over and over again where only the era has changed and little else.
Unlike the malachim (angels) and the humans in my book who I can control to some extent, I often wonder what forces control the betterment of society, of mankind at large. We have measured our change in terms of income, security (shelter, education, running water and other basic services), technological advancements, scientific breakthroughs, advances in medicine. All the surrogate measures we use as indicators of human evolution, yes? And yet, what seems to govern us on a daily basis aren’t any of those things. It still boils down to the way we are as individuals that determine the state of our kind – and I just wonder what the current state of our world says about us. Our biases, our prejudices aren’t based on money or education, our access to technology or our species accomplishments in the sciences. So, what does it rely on? On what basis do we have our prejudices? On what grounds do we act on our biases? The fact of the matter is, for a sentient, rational being, we sure do a lot of things that are, for all means and purposes, completely irrational. Such is the irony of a scientist who believes in the paranormal. At the end of the day, we rely on that voice inside us. The voice in our head that dictates whether we flee or we fight. Be it instinct or conscience, an angel or the devil, what is that voice? And more importantly, why do we let it rule our behavior beyond our rational mind?
My fictional answer is coming up in the next few chapters. You will learn how the Houses of Auriel, Nebiyah and Jinn change the course of our lives. My real world answer remains elusive. Feel free to chime in with your own view!
Thank you for reading!
For the actual dissertation of Dr. Waters, read here: https://www.darinwaters.com/