A Woman’s Way: Reintegrating the Lost feminine.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci.

“One must stay close to feeling to know what one should do in this matter of having or not having children”.

~ Marie-Louise von Franz, A Woman’s Way.

The first time I realised that I was the last female in my matrilineal line I was in a room with a few other woman- dream lodge friends- who for the most part were in the same position. I was not the only one to have this realisation for the first time and the room fell silent for a time as each woman considered the emotional impact of that recognition.

That was in 2016, quite late in my life, although technically I could still have become a mother. I remember one of the first astrology readings I received in my early thirties when the astrologer told me that he did not rule out motherhood for me until around forty-seven. I was shocked, I could not imagine becoming a mother at forty-seven. I never became one at all.

Since that evening in Canterbury sitting with the other non- mothers reflecting of the meaning of that in our lives, I have thought a lot about why I did not have children. I have never felt sad or distressed about it; on a deep level I knew that it was not my role in this lifetime to be a mother. That is not to say there were not moments when I thought it would have been amazing to be a mother… and there were losses, but somehow my calling lay elsewhere.

In my astrology practice I work with women who are mothers and have deeply adored the experience; women who are mothers and not without some guilt have admitted they did not enjoy the experience; women who have regretted having children, and women who have regretted not having children. In these sessions we inevitably look at the mother-line to explore our own experience of being mothered; often the same patterns are repeated, or else there is a fracture down the line.

Women who feel they were unmothered sometimes endure a lot of soul questing on their journey to heal the emotional wounds of this abandonment, perceived or actual. Something else I have found is that it can be the case that women who do not continue the matrilineal line are in fact clearing the line, they are lineage bearers and lineage healers. In this case it is the end of the line for a particular cycle of trauma… though sometimes not without much personal cost.

Astrology has helped to me to connect with my own mother-line and has cultivated a deep sense of compassion in what has been a painful and traumatic relationship with my own mother… and her mother before her. Pholus and the centaurs in a chart can help to flesh out the story.

Getting to know my astrology has also imbued me with a sense of purpose as I realise that I am here for a reason other than mothering.Working with the asteroid goddesses provides psychological insight in grasping the journey of the soul as it relates to feminine patterns of consciousness and archetypes… there are many wonderful masculine archetypes/asteroids to help expand masculine consciousness and experience too.

The tradition planets reveal a huge amount of insight and information however working with the asteroids facilitate a reintegration of many of the feminine aspects and expressions that have been lost, repressed, curtailed, or otherwise marginalised and outright abandoned.

I see this time as a calling back of all the different expressions of the feminine. Women are wives, consorts, lovers, mothers, scholars, and CEO’s… and they are also medicine women, healers, holy women, sages, leaders, visionaries, warriors, tricksters, masters, sacred sexual priestesses, initiators, creatrixes, funerary priestesses, spirit doulas, and dream temple oracles to name a few.

Sometimes women who have taken on their ancestral karma and lineage clearing are just exhausted and need time to recover and regenerate. This may be especially so if the descent into the trauma of the line has resulted in illness caused by emotional or mental imbalances, or spiritual malaise.

There are many ways to birth and there are many ways to mother.

If you would like to explore this theme in your life, I am available for astrology session to explore how the feminine archetypes move in you and identify the ones that may be calling you toward a life that you have not yet seen.

Rethinking Perimenopause and Menopause.

Image by artist Galen Dara

Image by artist Galen Dara

I notice lately a lot of posts about peri menopause and menopause- this is great! The once taboo conversation is now well underway.

Menopause and its emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual manifestations are finally coming out of the shadowy closet labelled “women’s issues”.

Women are having frank and open discussions about their experience of “the change” … and it is definitely a change.

As a woman on the threshold of menopause myself (perimenopausal) I am loving the journey. I know this comment might buck the trend toward talking about menopause as a difficult and for the most part negative experience however I am excited to also talk of the gifts of menopause.

Why do so many women suffer through menopause and opt for HRT?

I propose that the real issue is not with menopause itself- which is after all an entirely natural biological process – but with the trappings of a modern, science led consciousness that seeks mastery over nature.

Could part of the trouble be that in our current culture women have largely been denied a natural hormonal, biological, birthing, and womb experience?

From teenage years (and now even younger) to middle age and beyond the effects of artificial tampering with the hormonal cycle, birthing, reproduction, menstrual flow, contraception, and hormonal regulation has to be considered when accounting for the huge number of women suffering from gynaecological issues.

Secondly, our 24/7 “always on” society that prizes and praises a “can do”, “just get on with it” attitude above a body centred consciousness lacks a multi-dimensional perspective and is still trapped in a mind- body- spirit -split.

Denial and fear of an integrated and fully expressed feminine consciousness still holds sway in our collective beliefs and attitudes… and has a dark legacy.

With more women having children later in life and running careers and families while going through the menopause, it is no wonder that women are struggling.

I know some feminists will take offense at my over emphasis on female biology- according to second wave feminists the reason women were demoted to the rank of second-class citizenry was precisely due to their “inferior” biology- but realistically how feasible is it for women to continue to push on through while their bodies (and souls) are undergoing major transformation. Could this not also be a cause of menopausal suffering?

I am not quite there yet, as I say I am on the threshold and just getting used to perimenopause and already I cannot be bothered with the many demands and distractions of the world- there is a thinness, an insubstantiality that no longer grips me. I am less seduced by the world.

I want to tune in, go deeper, sit in silence when I need to, rest when I need to, dream and experience the visions and wisdom of my inner life. I want to experience my true nature.

I don’t want to miss this initiation…the transition into a more mature, more rooted version of myself.

Ultimately menopause is an important preparation for an even bigger transition- death… something else our culture apparently does not do well.

Hygeia: Reclaim Your Body

Hygeia by Peter Paul Rubens

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”.

The Red Death: Menstruation as a Symbol of Renewal- Part 5.

Mother of God

Protection of the Mother God-Orthodox Image found on google images

What may loosely be termed as a ‘menstrual revival movement’, beginning in the 1970s and taking hold in the 1980s continues today as many women seek to honour menstruation and even utilise it as a method of empowerment for women. Fedele says: “By the end of the 1980’s, a movement to affirm the power and importance of menstruation had developed” (Fedele 2013.p. 151). Chris Knight credits a significant contribution to Shuttle and Redgrove and claims that

“It was above all The Wise Wound that presented a new generation of emancipated women in the 1980’s with what seemed to be at first a daring and paradoxical message: Menstruation can be an empowering and indeed magical experience” (Knight, 1991, p.378).

While much negativity, past and present, has undoubtedly played a part in our current menstrual rejection, it is clear that the empowering message from The Wise Wound and other seminal texts such as Vicki Noble’s Shakti Woman, and Sjoo and Mor’s The Great Cosmic Mother finds strong resonance today. In the feminine spirituality movement, goddess and pagan groups and in ‘pro-women’ circles all over the Western world, women are reclaiming their “wise blood”. Alexander Pope, a leader in the menstrual movement promotes her Red School by declaring “We’ve got a radical new approach to women’s leadership, creativity and spiritual life based on a uniquely feminine way – the menstrual cycle(redschool.com, 2017). 

looking-out-of-the-red-tent-renee-kahn

Looking Out Of The Red Tent by Renee Kahn

Similarly Red Tent is a grass roots movement where circles of woman gather regularly to share and endorse the experiences of womanhood through different stages. The first circles appeared in the late 1990s but it was after the release of Anita Diamant’s book of the same name in 1997 that the movement really gained in popularity. Red Tent the book is a feminist retelling of the biblical story The Rape of Dinah (Genesis); in a review of the book, Emily Dwass says that the book’s success lies in, “giving a voice to Dinah, one of the silent female characters in Genesis” (Dwass, 2000). The novel”, says Dwass has “struck a chord with women who may have felt left out of biblical history…. it celebrates mothers and daughters and the mysteries of the life cycle” (Dwass, 2000).

Writing for the Huffington Post last year, Vanessa Olorenshaw, says:

“Red Tent and women’s circles are about something that can happen when women showing an open mind gather…. it’s not magic…. saying that, I occasionally get the feeling that, once, we women of the Red Tent would have been burned at the stake” (Olorenshaw, 2017)

Drawing a parallel between ‘menstrual revival movements’ and ‘witch burning’ could have deeper and more profound implications that the author of the article may have realised: for Shuttle and Redgrove “the persecution continues, and is current” (Shuttle and Redgrove, 1978, p.204). Among the many people who believe that the number of women tortured and sentenced to death during the ‘witch trials’ is a staggering nine million, Shuttle and Redgrove chillingly link this figure with the modern figures of 90% of women who suffer from ‘dysmenorrhoea’.

witchcraft

unknown image- google images

Linking past stories to our present experience as Shuttle and Redgrove have done can be illuminating in exploring the mythical and archetypal essence at the core of things. In a documentary released in September 2017 entitled Sacrificial Virgins, film maker Joan Shenton traces a thread from the HPV vaccinations currently administered to young girls, back to the 1960s “Thalidomide tragedy” when a drug prescribed to pregnant women resulting in thousands of babies being born with deformities. Shenton travels back further on the cultural timeline to draw parallels with sacrificed virgins from ancient cultures where pre-sexual girls were “chosen” to give their life and autonomy to the king or other important men. Shenton says she chose the title Sacrificial Virgins “because the vaccine is often given to girls before they are sexually active”. (SanVax,Inc.,2017).

While this point may appear to go off at tangents to the issues raised in this essay, I feel it is important on two accounts: firstly, while we are caught up in the minutiae of our lives we rarely drop beneath the surface of things to connect with the archetypal, symbolic and mythic aspects of our cultural shared past. Secondly, one of Shenton’s main concern is that the efficacy of the HPV vaccination in preventing cancer is still unproven and yet:

“Adverse reactions are blighting and even ending the lives of girls and young women across the world. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and many health authorities are refusing to acknowledge there is a problem and the medical community is continuing to offer the vaccine (SanVax, Inc., 2017).

This is concerning in the same way menstrual suppression is – it is clear that modern medicine does not fully understand women’s bodies and reproduction, or feminine consciousness, as Hillman says:

“We must bear in mind that the evidence in anatomy, as in all fields of science, is gathered mainly by men and is part of their philosophy. We know next to nothing about how feminine consciousness or a consciousness that has an integrated feminine regards the same data” (Hillman, 1972, p.249).

Ultimately however it is the work of women to reclaim their menstruation, bodies and biological processes – menstruation may be “woman’s curse”, or “an unexplored resource”, “magic” or “madness” (Shuttle and Redgrove, 1978, p. 213). Perhaps it is for each woman herself to decide how she makes sense and integrates menstruation in her life… or not. While so little is known about menstruation on a physical, emotional and spiritual level, there needs to be more awareness and conversation about the implications of erasing it from our feminine experience.

Hannah Adamaszek

Image by Hannah Adamaszek

The Red Death: Menstruation as a Symbol of Renewal- Part 3

Larrissa Morais

Painting by Larissa Morais

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.”

seasonale ad 3

Seasonale Advertisement

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.

margaret-mitchell

Ceramic by Margaret Mitchell from Alpaca Ceramics