Yesterday as the moon reached her peak, asteroid Hygeia merged with Luna in a tight conjunction at 9 ° Leo.
Hygeia, goddess of health is involved with maintaining good health through right living and connection to nature. Daughter of Asclepius, god of medicine, whose father and mother are Apollo and Coronis, Hygeia comes from a long line of healers associated with the serpent mysteries of renewal.
Robert Graves suggests that Coronis’ mythology represents the suppression of medical practice by women and its transference into the hands of the patriarchy which I feel is worthy of consideration in light of ongoing medical dispute.
Where, we might ask, is the voice of the wise woman in this wrangle?
Yesterday I had a conversation with my father who shared with me his experience of visiting his doctor who suggested that he start taking vitamin B12 supplement. My father informed her that he was already taking B12 and had been for some time. This apparently surprised her, and she wanted to know what had caused my father to do that.
My father’s exchange remined me of my own experience last year- I don’t often visit doctors but after a self-examination, I noticed something potentially concerning and decided to get it checked out. The female doctor asked me how I had come to know about the issue, and I told her I’d discovered it through self-examination. She was surprised… and almost cross; she demanded to know why I had carried out a self-examination as if I had no right to intimate access of my own body.
In that moment I collided with the shadow of entitlement at the core of allopathic medicine. The belief that we are ignorant to the workings, needs and spirit of our bodies is conditioned into us from early childhood, and before that in the womb where for the most part our mothers succumbed to often detrimental birthing practices.
It is this shadow of entitled authority that expects people to comply without question with procedures such as mass vaccination. These expectations are reinforced by government and other authorities who strongly advise consent. Whether the strong advice turns into enforced obligation is a very real question of our time.
In the myth of Coronis, when Coronis is pregnant she falls in love with a mortal man which enrages Apollo who ends up killing both her and her lover. As she lay burning on her funeral pyre, Apollo performs the first caesarean section by cutting baby Asclepius from her womb thus saving him from certain death. For Graves, the death of Coronis heralds a point when wisdom originally carried by the wise woman now passed only from father to son.
In the hands of the wise woman health is a holistic, multi-dimensional state of being, an interplay between body, mind, and spirit, with cause and effect reaching far beyond the temporal world. The wise woman knows that it is our vital spirit and care of it that nurtures health and wellbeing. Health is fostered by inter relational wellness and harmony with our family/community and environment, and of course ourselves. There is much that can be done to keep spirit alive and embodied which does not involve allopathic medicine. In the wise ways we know that we are connected to the web of life and understand the transformative processes of renewal. Ritual and observing the natural thresholds of life aid us in healthy development and the ability to integrate evolving consciousness. In preparing for death we are freed into life.
Recent events have highlighted more than ever how we have given too much power to the medical establishments in matters of health… we have been indoctrinated to believe that our bodies are the property and responsibility of medical experts. It appeared as if we had no choice in the matter and for the most part, we didn’t think to question it. We accepted as part of normal life, the routine check-ups, the inoculations, the prescription medicines, and the surgical procedures. We accepted the diagnoses of our doctor gods as incontrovertible. We were intimidated by remote science clad language and the superior detachment of many health professionals (please note, I am not implying that all health professions are remote and detached, and neither am I implying that all medical procedures and allopathic medicine are bad).
At school we were, after a very crude fashion, taught sex education. Wooden phalluses and copulating primates explained nothing of the exquisite sensitivity and confusion in our budding sexuality and changing bodies. There was no initiation or rites of passage except for the often-destructive self-initiation we put ourselves and each other through. We died of humiliation and shame. And maybe it is that shame of our bodies and our lack of connection to them that led to the slow but sure dissociation which primed the way for the professionals to take over.
So out of touch did we become from our bodies that we did not know what foods to eat to keep us healthy, what herbs to use to heal, or what practices to adopt to promote physical and spiritual integration… none of this was taught at school and rarely by our poor indoctrinated parents.
We forgot that dancing and singing and star gazing and belly laughing and river swimming and campfires and praying and dying and being reborn and truth and integrity and emotional release and forgiveness and nights without light and the wild, wild spirit and the contractions that gives way to the birthing of great art and touching the void and stepping out of time and space and holy pain and the heartbreak that leads to God and the spirit messengers of illness and discovering our true name and the changing of the seasons and ceremony and the swirling of the cosmos and our part in it are some of the wisdom keys to unlocking good health.
As Hygeia and Luna conspire to shed light onto the processes of renewal, an invitation this lunar cycle through Aquarius is to reflect on how in or out of touch we are with our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. It is also an invitation to review how and where we have given ourselves away at the most fundamental level of being.
In claiming sovereignty of our physical bodies we also claim sovereignty for our lives and our Selves on the most profound level.
As mystic and liberated soul William Blake reminds us,
“Enlightenment means taking full responsibility for your life”.
Why is it that so many modern women are choosing to reject their menstruation which we have seen is a rich source of feminine power, magic, and healing? Previous blogs in this series show that rejection of the feminine and in particular female bodies and bodily functions can be traced back to Greek philosophy and early Christianity. We have seen how fear of the feminine and misogyny was particularly virulent in the early modern period manifesting in the genocide of countless women, and we have seen how modern gynaecology, according to Mary Daly continues to oppress women.
In Feminism and Ecology, Mary Mellor says that “Debates around the nature of sex/gender differences and the impact of women’s biology on their social position has been very much a feature of Western feminism”. Within the feminist dialectic the most enduring and contentious issue has without a doubt been the essentialist debate: Is there an inherent quality of female distinct from male that runs deeper than social conditioning? And if so, what does this mean? Many second wave feminists rejected any essential difference between men and women other than biology while refusing female biology as the bind that keeps women subordinate to men. For de Beauvoir and other cultural feminists of the 20th century there was no ontological difference between men and women other than on a physical level and anything men were capable of women were too. In this way, many women sought to prove they were just like men. Other feminist disagreed and feminism itself splintered into a shattered picture of womanhood.
Within feminism the debate raged: Are women on account of their biology connected with the natural world and the cycles of nature in a particular way? This question, more than any other in the feminist/gender debate has been prohibitive in a coherent meaning of womanhood and points to more than just a split in feminist thinking: it is a wound at the core of the female experience and is instrumental in a perpetual rejection of the feminine.
While the debate remains unresolved and while women are constantly splintering into more and more factions over their basic spiritual and cultural identity, ‘maldeveloped’ technologies such as menstrual suppression, artificial wombs, gender reversal operations and puberty blockers remain largely unchallenged to any significant degree while Misogynist tendencies beneath the surface of our culture remains unchallenged in any truly meaningful way. If these assumptions are not challenged, they cannot be healed… if they are not healed they will prevail. It is not possible to by-pass these issues by suddenly creating a gender neutral or unisex society.
As we approach greater levels of crisis in the natural world and planetary condition, it is not possible to address these issues without also addressing the issue of the feminine. While many eco-feminist are unashamedly making the link between the oppression of the feminine and the oppression of the natural world under dominion of patriarchy, still others, including ecologists would rather avoid the link. In avoiding the issue, especially within an ecological framework that concerns itself with the future of the natural world, is to by-pass a hugely important issue. Avoidance does not address the denial of the feminine, nor does it offer a possibility to truly differentiate masculine and feminine, a task, according to Ann Ulanov “we must wrestle with”.
To take an anti-essentialist position as a safe guard toward biological determinism is to not only reject the female body and inherent feminine qualities that exist in and of themselves, but also diminishes the possibility of opposites – the creative tension which allows for renewal and regeneration. Denying the qualities of woman’s nature and the feminine principle is detrimental for women but ultimately affects all of us in our human connection to and embeddedness within nature.
Fear of biological determinism is rooted in the patriarchal assumption that women’s primary function is to produce children. Just because a woman can produce children does not mean she is obliged to. Before the witch trials, women would have held many positions in their community that did not entail mothering and were not under patriarchal control– herbalists, midwifes, healers, wisdom keepers. crones…
Within a cultural context, essentialism need not mean subordination by the patriarchy- this has been the main and enduring argument used against a gynocentric and female embodied positions. For pagan feminist Starhawk, a.k.a. Miriam Somos, rituals involving menstrual blood and other aspects of women’s bodies that are declared taboo or unclean in male religions are celebrated; she sees ritual as a way of generating energy for political action and the image of the goddess as a way of understanding the immanence – the aliveness of spirit and vitality that permeates the natural world.
We are all connected to nature, male and female, but how we are connected to nature and what those differences are must be addressed, if they are not, I suggest that the feminine will continue to be rejected under the guise of an ever encroaching ‘gender neutral’ society. Esther Harding, an early advocate of Jungian thought views the essence of feminine psychology in sharp contrast to masculine psychology. Harding says: “Without wresting with this task of differentiation, we fall into formlessness and cheap imitation of current personal roles…. we miss our chance to become unique persons”.
In transpersonal psychology we see that opposites are important in coming together to form what the ancient world referred to as hieros gamos. Jungian analysts Nancy Qualls Corbett says that the hieros gamos is “a mystical process in which the disconnected elements are joined together to form a whole” (Qualls-Corbett, 1988 p.70). In her book The Sacred Prostitute: Eternal Aspects of the Feminine, she says: “If we deny sexual difference, we deny the fact of otherness” (Qualls-Corbett, 1988, p.82). A condition of equality does not exclude, and perhaps even demands, difference. According to Nietzsche, “Opposites have an equal inherent value, so that one polar element cannot dominate and annihilate its counterpart”.
The ongoing feminist critique, including some ecofeminist and ‘third wave’ feminism often holds the ‘master model’ of patriarchy responsible for the continued subordination of women and nature but I suggest this view is in danger of fostering a belief in the inherent weakness of the feminine. It is a view that challenges the system by fighting fire with fire and is filtered through logic, the rational mind and fear. Endless books have and continue to be written in ever decreasing spirals and hair-splitting semantics in an attempt to change the system from without when in truth the change comes from within. Expending energy on patriarchy, vying for an equal status in an unequal system and jumping through impossible hoops leads to nowhere.
I am not saying do not challenge the system or patriarchy, my point is to extract vital energy from an endless pit of distraction and illusion and put it to better use by forging a genuine and life enhancing connection with both the material world and spirit thereby becoming conduits of vitality, creativity, and life force. Being embodied helps us to connect but while we dual with the nameless faceless forces of control, resorting to separatist viewpoints we lose energy and are worn down. By constantly battling with this rather elusive entity we call patriarchy we hand our power and precious energy over to a devouring beast who always demands more.
When we finally see that the emperor is wearing no clothes, is he still the Emperor? And if he is, is it not because we continue to call him so?
Though it may be true that modern Western culture is patriarchal, I would argue that women will not find their power within that paradigm and therefore must reinstate a feminine power that does not depend on patriarchy. While some feminists could argue that this position is separatist and excludes women from culture, it is important that women (and men) embrace their own feminine in an empowered way. I am not arguing for a separatist situation where men and women exists in different cultures -that is not possible and more importantly patriarchy is not about men and women- that is one of the biggest illusions – what I am advocating is a feminine revival in which all the exiled and rejected parts of the feminine, for men and women, are brought back into the matrix of consciousness- including and perhaps beginning with the body and the natural world.
How is it that menstruation, once considered a sacred process, has become devoid of meaning in our modern times? What has caused a shift from the sacred to the profane? In The Woman in a Shaman’s Body, anthropologist Barbara Tedlock says: “The unease so many Western women feel about their menstrual cycle springs from a combination of masculine sentiments and religious sanctions” (Tedlock, 2005, p.196). While Psychotherapist and Astrologer, Demetra George says, “Women no longer understand that the instinctive movement during menstruation is withdrawal in order to connect with powerful psychic energies to effect healing in their lives” (George, 1992, p.19-20). Feminist scholar Mary Parlee says: “What little we do know of menstruation has been defined in terms of pathology; menstrual studies are incomplete while we only chart the sickness of the cycle, and not its peaks and inspirations” (Parlee, quoted in Shuttle and Redgrove 1978, p.72).
With a cursory glance into the physical and emotional problems associated with menstruation, it is reasonable to assume that menstruation has become pathologised in the modern West. According to Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove, 90% of modern women suffer dysmenorrhea and in the Guardian newspaper in September 2017, it was reported that 176 million suffer from endometriosis- that’s 10% of women worldwide. The article states that the prevalence of endometriosis in women experiencing fertility issues can be as high as 30-50%, and concludes that the cause of endometriosis is unknown and there is no definite cure.
In Jungian psychotherapy much has been revealed about woman’s over identification with the animus (male principle) and the consequences of turning against her own feminine biological nature. In a patriarchal culture where the masculine principle has been inflated for a few thousand years it is hardly surprising that women of the modern West have become over identified with the animus, or even possessed by it. This can be seen in women who have rejected part of themselves in order to be successful in a system that denies their feminine nature or qualities. Many women have, as George says, lost their inherent instinctual wisdom in relation to their bodies and natural cycles.
Barr Pharmaceutical, the company who produce Seasonale, the market leader in menstrual suppression draws heavily on feminine over-identification with masculine values in their advertising campaigns, often depicting young, successful urban women who have no time for menstruating. In their critique of Seasonale, scientists Laura Mamo and Jennifer Foskett observe:
“Furthermore, another implicit assumption is that, with Seasonale, women are free to engage (or compete) in the professional world with bodies more similar to those of men…. menstruation is produced as a constraining process that, with Seasonale, becomes something to be overcome: a part of every woman’s and girl’s wellness.”
In Jungian terms, this over identification with the animus necessitates a rejection of the ‘great mother archetype’ which calls forth the ‘negative great mother’. Jungian Jasbinder Garnermann says this denial “can manifest in physical symptoms such as irregular menstruation, amenorrhoea and fertility problems.”
Rarely does allopathic Western medicine consider the under-lying issues of menstrual disorders and instead favours prescription of pharmaceutical drugs or invasive surgery. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2006-2010, 11.7 percent of women between the ages of 40-44 had a hysterectomy. When we acknowledge the connection between hysteria and hysterectomy, it is difficult to ignore the connection between physical disease and emotional experience; it is also difficult to ignore the connection between physical remedy and behavioral control.
Mary Daly has a particular focus on gynaecology and medical practices carried out on women’s bodies which she presents in her 1987 Gyn/Ecology. According to Lucy Sargisson what Daly seeks in this work is “a true, wild, Woman’s self, which she perceives to be dormant in women, temporarily pacified by patriarchal systems of domination” (Sargisson, 1996, p.184). Daly herself says: “The rise of Western gynecology was built on the massacre of women healers, replaced by male medical practitioners. The purpose and intent of gynecology was/is not healing in a deep sense but violent enforcement of the sexual caste system” (Daly, quoted in Noble, 1991, p.35).
Seasonale, is also being applauded as a cure for increasing menstrual problems, hailed as a “radical rescuing of the ovaries and endometrium from modernity” (Gladwell, 2000). Yet few people seem willing to ask why modernity is so detrimental to the reproductive and menstrual health of women. Instead of asking why so many women suffer negative symptoms of menstruation, or why teenage girls view their menstrual blood negatively – “The experience of the first period is associated with hurts and wounds and bodily waste” (Douvain, quoted in Shuttle and Redgrove 1978, p.87), the current trend is towards erasing periods all together. For Paula Weideger, “The menstrual taboo… has been one of the most successful methods devised to undermine the self-acceptance and confidence of women” (Weideger, quoted in Shuttle and Redgrove, 1978, p.88). Demetra George, echoing this view puts it like this: “Women are made to feel ashamed of their raw, instinctive sexual desires and to feel that their menstrual blood is dirty and disgusting” (George, 1992 p.50).
In trying to make sense of menstrual suppression and the archetype behind it and in looking to history for a clearer understand of the present, is it worth considering that control of women and their bodies through darkly coercive means with “sinister misogynistic implications” (Hillman) are not resigned to the past? Is it the case that women themselves are unwittingly permitting the control and manipulation of their bodies through a female-denying science and technology?
In considering the reasons why many women reject menstruation, I am led to a thorny debate at the heart of feminist discourse- the ‘essentialism’ and ‘biological determinism’ debate. This dialectic asks difficult questions about the relationship between women and nature – is it the case that women, on account of their biology have a particular and unique relationship with the natural world? This issue has a caused a split in feminist discourse for six decades with cultural feminists rejecting biological essentialism as a tool of patriarchal coercion and control, and other feminist groups, including ecofeminists, insisting on the connection between women and the natural world while reviewing the status of both in our current system. I will explore this in a later section.
For now, an important question I feel in addressing historical misogyny is this: What happened to all that fear, superstition and hysteria? Where did it go … did it simply dissolve as humanity evolved? Did the Church and other institutions quietly become more women- loving? The “witch hunts’” says Carol Christ, “were as much about the control of information and knowledge as it was about controlling women’s sexuality and bodies”(Christ, 1988, p.46). Many women, disempowered within the medical systems are turning to pro- women movements of natural birthing, sacred sexuality, menstrual awareness and the feminine mysteries to reclaim their innate wisdom precisely because they are not ‘being met’ by our institutions- which, it may argued, are still premised on institutionalized misogyny. While there are no modern day witch hunts, many women will testify to feeling degraded, demeaned or in some way harmed or insulted in their interactions with medical and other cultural institutions.
Schools are also being called into question; right now there is a campaign running to challenge rules in school that prohibit teenage girls from going to the bathroom to attend to their menstrual needs.