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The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths

Saints and Sinners: Zipporah of Midian

by Hilary Doda
April 11, 2002
Edited by Drew Meger  

Not One Of Us

A daughter of a herder walked to the well one day and stepped into the pages of history. The young man she met there had been chosen by his god as a mouthpiece and hero, and once he won her father's permission to marry her, wherever Moses the Hebrew went, Zipporah the Midianite went too. She was from a different race and religion, her own father a priest of a pantheon of different gods, but she was also the prime instigator in a series of events that brought Moses and their sons back to the faith of their forefathers.

The texts do not tell us much about the girl in her own right, only of her whereabouts in relation to the men in her life. We learn that Moses was tending her father's flocks when he spoke to his famous flaming shrubbery; we know that she was sent back to her father's house after saving Moses' life and the lives of their sons en route back to Egypt, and we know that her siblings-in-law, Aaron and Miriam, were unhappy with the match.

Drawing on these few mentions, the rabbinical authorities throughout the ages have created a series of stories around this remarkable woman that have fleshed out the mysteries of this non-Jewish rescuer of Jews.

Intrusion into the Faith

The introduction of a stranger into the priestly arena can cause upheavals on all levels, the power structure itself revolting against the inclusion of the foreign influence, the people beneath doubting the word from above and questioning which influences will come to the fore. When more than one external influence seems to have infiltrated the ruling structure of a society, revolution against the unholy or improper intrusion can seem to be the only option.

Despite social pressures that determine gender roles in faith and religion, in the most extreme of circumstances, shifts become probable, if not expected. In a situation where the rituals are determined to be more important than the sort of person who performs them, changing the performers can be the lesser of two evils.

Public ceremonies vital to a society's cohesion - sacrifices, public readings of the law, services and so on - can be modified if the circumstances are dire enough, but what of rituals designed specifically to ward off disaster or some mystical sort? What if a change in the gender of the performers is enough to instigate some kind of divine punishment, or, at least, is believed to be enough?

Changing the identity, caste, or gender of officiates is one thing, but accepting a stranger into the higher echelons of power is another matter entirely.

Zipporah was not only a woman doing a man's job, she was a stranger brought into the midst of the house is Israel, a daughter of a priest of a foreign god, married to the mouthpiece of the Eternal Lord. This strange woman had, to the dismay of her new relatives, not only married the foremost prophet of the people, but had, on at least one occasion, usurped his role as ritual leader.

Rituals and Beliefs

The longest and strangest story about Zipporah's life is her reaction to an attack that takes place on the road from Midian to Egypt, while she travels with Moses and their two sons. Along the way, while stopping at a campsite for the night, some force, some illness or sudden pain, attacks Moses and renders him helpless.

Zipporah reacts, understanding, somehow, that this attack is revenge for Moses' neglect - he'd not had their son circumcised, an action that befuddles scholars. Zipporah draws a knife and circumcises the baby herself, an action reserved for the father and/or grandfather of a baby boy. The force withdrew, or the illness receded, and Moses recovered. He sent Zipporah back to her father, and she doesn't reappear in the narrative until much later, after the Hebrew slaves have received their sacred text at Mt. Sinai.

Welcome the Stranger

It is at this point, once she is brought back from her father's house, that Zipporah's nationality becomes an issue. Far from gaining renown as the heroine who saved Moses' life and completed the rituals which he had left undone, she is insulted by her own family, her brother- and sister-in-law objecting to the fact that their brother had married a foreign bride. Moses' deity himself is on her side, striking Miriam down with leprosy until she repented for her harsh words.

Jehovah and Isis

Zipporah is never on record as having converted in to Moses' faith, joining a long line of vitally important non-Jewish women who appear over and over again in the history of the Hebrew people. From Sarai, the wife of Avram, the first Jew, down to Ruth, great-grandmother of King David, pagan women have repeatedly fuelled the lifeblood of this most insular of nations.

Far from diverting the nation away from its prophesied path, these women have been uniformly beneficial, correcting the excesses of their new people and being held up to future generations as exemplars of whichever good quality is seen as most appropriate at the time - over the centuries, Zipporah has been portrayed as everything from a quiet, obedient passive wife to a strong feminist icon to a pagan spell caster skilled in blood magics.

What can be seen from her recorded actions, however, is her dedication to upholding the strictures of a faith not her own. Women are usually the ones given the job of upholding faith within the family, responsible for teaching younger members as well as ensuring that the home is kept properly and personal rituals and prayers are done accurately and promptly.

While the public sphere - the roles of priests, rabbis, scholars and so on - is generally reserved for men, the private religious sphere is the territory of the wife and mother. Despite that status within Judaism, especially, the rituals that mark and dedicate, even when performed privately, are reserved for men in historical and modern orthodoxy. The bris, for instance, ritual circumcision that dedicates the male fruit of a woman's body to her faith, is performed solely by the male members of her family.

Zipporah was a non-Jew, but apparently agreed to raise her children as Jews, and was the only person to ensure that the rituals were performed as they should have been.

Dieties and Followers

In game settings where deities are directly involved, acceptance of an external power can be forced, but the arrival of a stranger into a close-knit society can often mean trouble. Scholars have suggested that Zipporah herself was the cause of Moses' victimization, her attachment to the Midianite culture leading her to refuse Moses' request to circumcise their child as a baby, instead setting it at the age of thirteen, as has been done by the Bedouin tribes for thousands of years.

Zipporah herself was the cause of Moses' apostasy, some Rabbis say, and so it was up to her to correct the mistake that she herself made. She thus becomes a repentant sinner rather than a hero, her power removed from the record.The external influence is here portrayed as a source of weakness rather than an infusion of strength, a comment that supports the intrinsic insularity of the Jewish people and their demonization of exogamy - marrying out of the tribe.

Victim or savior, instigator or passive recipient of punishment, Zipporah at the same time saved lives and put them in danger, a seductive and powerful external influence on the leader of a nation. At once the intended teacher of religion to her family and a symbol of a distant and dangerous heresy, her very presence incited rebellion and passion in those around her.

Tips and Tricks

Your People Shall be My People: A powerful or predestined leader has taken a member of another race/culture as a spouse and co-ruler. The ruling elite don't believe that the newcomer can be trusted to uphold their rites and traditions; does the spouse bring more benefits than trouble, or must the ruler be persuaded to annul the marriage for the benefit of the people?

The Priest-King:

A specific caste is responsible for the transmission of faith and ritual in a society - how will they react when others try to take that right into their own hands and perform the rituals on their own? Is a revolution on the way, or merely a reassignment of tasks?

Return to Me:

A member of the elite objects to or has forgotten the divine/social laws with respect to raising his children, and retribution has been promised from above. What will it take to bring him back into the fold? What if his objections are legit?

Into the Woods:

A powerful religious figure has been transformed from her original state, by reincarnation, transmutation or some other foul magics. This new creature carries the mandate of heaven, but no longer fulfills the requirements of the deity that the people serve. Can the PCs be certain that this new being is truly who it claims to be? What of other the claimants to the power who have started to appear; how can it be truly told which one is the original person?


Hilary Doda grew up in Toronto, but managed to escape to Montreal following the HentaiCon Tentacle Disaster of '97. Now free from the persecution of her former masters, she whiles away the lonely hours counting her toes over and over again. She can be reached at hdoda@seamchecker.com TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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The The Head of Vecna: Women in Gaming and Other Myths by Hilary Doda

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