By Sharon G. Mijares
Humanity stands at a threshold. The presence of women will facilitate its crossing for it is the feminine archetype that manifests the capacity to love one’s neighbor as oneself and embody our relationship with Nature.
Far too many women are burdened by poverty or enticed by glamour. Many women spend an entire day simply fetching water for drinking, cooking and cleaning, whereas other women spend hours on media pursuits that simply entertain and divert attention from more important needs. There are also women in many parts of this globe who support the gathering of women in order to create needed change.
In 1992 Clarisa Pinkola-Estes wrote a book titled Women Who Run With the Wolves (Ballentine Books). She equated healthy women to healthy wolves, noting that they "shared certain psychic characteristics: keen sensing, playful spirit, and a heightened capacity for devotion. Women and wolves are relational by nature, inquiring, possessed of great endurance and strength" (p. 4). She emphasized that,
A woman's issues of soul cannot be treated by carving her into a more acceptable form as defined by an unconscious culture, nor can she be bent into a more intellectually acceptable shape by those who claim to be the sole bearers of consciousness. No, that is what has already caused millions of women who began as strong and natural powers to become outsiders in their own cultures. Instead, the goal must be the retrieval and succor of women's beauteous and natural psychic form. (p. 6)
The call is one of integrating power (instinctual knowing/fiery spirit/force of one's truth) with beauty (such as the presence, grace and emanation in all of nature and in the depths of our hearts). This is a journey— an awakening—to something much more than what we have been living. It is about a journey to greater wholeness, and this is not obtained lightly. It means entering the unknown.
One of the world's first written stories in cuneiform around 3,000 BCE, relates the Sumerian Goddess Inanna's descent into the Underworld. Inanna is a Queen in her world. She has a loving consort and all the delights a Queendom can bring. But she hears her sister, Ereshkigal, has lost her husband. Ereshkigal is Queen of the Underworld. In order to respond to this desire to comfort, Inanna must descend into the Underworld (the dark unknown) and in so doing relinquish all of her worldly possessions. There is a possibility that she might never return. This is a deeper type of a Call.
As had been warned, the meeting with her dark sister Ereshkigal brings on Inanna's death. Due to the caring devotion of her servant, Ninshubar, and the creative wisdom of the God Inki (the only ones willing to help), a trade is made and Inanna's body is brought up through the seven gates where all of her relinquished items (qualities) are returned to her. After what had been a three-day death, she is resurrected. She learns that her consort Dumuzi is sitting on her throne partying. But Inanna had gained fierceness. She had gone beyond social expectations of being the nice lady as she pointed to him and declared before all present that it would be he who would take her place. She had gained a deeper sense of justice, boundary care and power in the journey to the realm of her dark sister.
What are some of the ways to this hidden power? Could sensing envy or the like be a guide to knowing oneself at a deeper level? Is there a deeply hidden rage from six-thousand years of oppression that is often projected on other women as well as the men in our lives? What qualities within us need to be recognized? We don't have to act on them, but they can lead us deeper into our own Underworld. Without this inner journey, we will not be embodiments of the change that is needed. Mother Earth, Gaia, Pachamama is calling us. Let our wolf natures, as well as the ability to hear and heed the call, take us over. Listen to and feel the ancient myths in order to fulfill their teachings.
Into the Dark
Homer’s hymn to Demeter relates the story of Persephone, the Greek Goddess Demeter’s daughter, who is abducted into the Underworld and raped by its God, Haides. It is a story of the loss of youth as the young woman is taken from the protection and sweetness. Persephone’s (Kore’s) innocence lacks the wisdom to discern danger. Demeter the mother then wanders the earth searching for her daughter—expressing grief and rage in response to the loss. The earth enters a bitter winter. Because of Demeter’s momentous response, Persephone is allowed to visit her mother to assure her she is alive and well. During their reunion, the Goddess Hekate joins them. There is great happiness at the reunion. Persephone relates the story of the abduction and shares that Hekate ministered and companioned her in the Underworld.
Hekate (or Hecate) is also aligned with the dark worlds below. She represents wisdom, appearing alongside prominent gods and goddesses in the myths. Because Hekate also tells grieving Demeter she heard Persephone’s screams as she was abducted, she appears to represent an inner sensing, perhaps akin to the “wolf” nature that Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes. It illustrates deep wisdom obtained from the depths of the Underworld (facing darkness).
Lately I have been questioning my own cynicism and tendency to confront ideals that lacked the grounding of this deeper journey. I began to consider my own experience of physical, emotional and sexual violence during the first 24 years of my life as well as the violence I then did to myself with drug addiction and self-negation. No doubt these experiences had deeply influenced my cynicism and related questioning of the "too much sweetness" persona as the trickster within knew it lacked wholeness. I began to consider that rape, war and violence also initiate us into dark realms as their powers infiltrate our bodies and souls. We are dragged into the Underworld and in response to the experience we can remain in the dark OR be initiated into ways of knowing, becoming a wisdom sister of Hecate.
The victim/perpetrator paradigm is a social contract (a mutual agreement), often enabled by limiting ideas of compassion from helpful others. As the brilliant historian Karen Armstrong points out: compassion should never reduce a person to being pitied. Far too often many people do not see that their helpfulness is aligned with a tendency to see the helper as strong and the victim as weak. The awakening occurring with the abduction to the Underworld is not seen. Although authentic experiences of violence are simply not acceptable, in terms of a more empowering response we must recognize that Persephone emerges from the Underworld aligned with Hekate—the goddess associated with the wilderness, the crossroads and guardianship.
The story of Persephone has similar tones to Inanna’s death, resurrection and initiation, as well as the tale of Shinto Goddess Amatarasu Omikami (Otani in Mijares, Rafea & Angha, 2013; Mijares, 2016). Numerous myths and legends remind women there is something deeper one must go through in order to truly walk the path of wholeness and healing. Do we listen? Like Demeter we may need to demonstrate (be honest about) our caring for the loss of innocence in tones of rage and grievance? Demeter, as one part of the story, represents important guidance. As mother, she rages over the loss of her child. Does a true mother/woman dance, sing and share personal stories as rape goes on? Or does she seek her power and the capacity for genuine transformation. We are all women crying out for the loss of the feminine and demanding her return. In this trilogy of three Goddesses, the sweetness and innocent Persephone does return, but with Hekate's guidance, Persephone is now also known as Kore. She has seen darkness and emerges anew.
A majority of women are not facing their own dark natures and this recognition is an important part of the journey. Susan Faludi (2010) noted how one generation of feminists does not always support the one before or after it due to differences in ideals. Mothers, daughters and sisters fail to support one another out of jealousy and/or old grievances. Also, due to “American exceptionalism,” many U.S. women know little about other cultures yet believe that they will be the global change-makers. Many women were joining against injustice even before the U.S. suffrage movement (Mijares in Mijares, Rafea, & Angha, 2013). We do not want to hold false ideas of influential power. It is only more of what has been demonstrated to all under the rule of patriarchal governance. We need to look more deeply into the dark shadows to understand issues of power within ourselves first, before we can truly facilitate the balancing of power and beauty.
How do we find the right balance? In ancient Greece, the initiatory ceremonies focused on dreaming, drinking hallucinogens and other means for entering the unknown. It can be initiated through deep self-questioning, processes such as holotropic breathwork, shamanic ritual—whatever has the potential to lead one into a deeper sense of the shadow realms. A significant imbalance within traditional spiritual, light-focused, practices is that they generally lead one into the higher realms, thereby bypassing the Underworld.
Initiation and Transformation
What prevents us from following this ancient guidance leading to wholeness? We are kept in ignorance through stressful conditions as well as the media glamour and the illusion of social constructions. We can examine the many ways media and other social, economic, religious and cultural paradigms provide an illusion of place and persona. We can discern the many ways that we are psychically lured into beliefs and ways that do not serve our souls or any other great cause. We can cultivate an intuition that is grounded in wise and seasoned discernment.
We live in a sea of influences, pulled hither and thither, as the saying goes. Social constructs (Berger & Luckmann, 1996) provide meaning-making—for better or for worse. The social construct of our patriarchal past encouraged a perpetrator/victim model. This is evidenced in war, migrations (refugee and climate crises) domestic abuse, rape, trafficking, etc. The list is endless. Both victim and perpetrator are needed in order to feed the beast! It is the destructive illusion within socially-constructed consciousness, and it is there waiting to be transformed.
Many women are waking up throughout the planet! They sincerely want to be free to create and live in a unified world—one in which all sentient life has a respected place. We need to regain deep innate power. We have to give up the ideal of living like kindly Inanna before her journey, and equally embrace the darker side of ourselves. Then we will quit unconsciously projecting the shadow upon others.
In Jungian psychology, this inner darker side of the self is often called the Shadow (see reference below). We may be drawn like moths to the light, but what happens to moths? They end up burning themselves on the flames and light bulbs. They lack discernment. Most of humanity has no idea of what power means as it has been so perverted. It has been used against life rather than to support it. Because of this imbalance, we are afraid of power and project our darkness upon other others (individuals, cultures, political, economic and religious ideologies, etc.).
One of the limitations of new age thinking, is that its tendency of spiritual bypass (Mathieu, 2011), however well intended, leads its followers away from the initiatory journey. The social construct is one of “positive thinking,” which only goes so far. We need to see and feel the envy, the deep rage, the place where there is no caring within each one of us. We need not be lured into such subtle influences. Feel them, examine the sources, solutions and then let go! As long as these powers remain in the shadows, they will be projected upon others. Therefore, a woman must find her power in order to know her place and to facilitate transformation.
We live in a time that requires the balancing of beauty and power. Women (and men) need to ground and create a felt relationship with all of Nature. Both Heaven and Earth must be recognized in unity—the Unity that we lost when human beings discovered egoic-awareness that eventually led to the development of a corporate-driven world that threatens all.
In the ancient myth, Inanna had to travel down and pass through seven gates, relinquishing her worldly garbs and treasures as she descended. As we face our own fears and relinquish the allurements and traps of the world, we open to a vaster connectedness with all of life. We can speak our truth, one that is not simply a reflection of the social construction of a preferred group. Like Inanna after the descent we can regain our throne (the capacity for exercising influential goodness and justice). We will have gained an embodied understanding of what wildness. Then we can enter more fully into the act of generating authentic change.
© 2015 Sharon G. Mijares
Sharon G. Mijares, Ph.D. is a Psychologist, Associate Faculty at National University, Core Faculty at the California Institute for Human Science and Adjunct Faculty at Brandman University and a visiting professor for the UN University for Peace. She is the author/editor of six books focused on psychological and spiritual development. A Force Such As the World Has Never Known: Women Creating Change (edited) brings women together from many nations and many areas of work. Her work is especially focused on balancing power and beauty/balancing heaven and earth. She has earned Shodan rank in Aikido, and has also led workshops to empower women in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, Mexico, Scotland, Uganda, United States and Venezuela. On a personal level she is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and currently lives in Nevada City, CA. For more info see www.psychospiritual.org
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This article appears in:
2016 Catalyst, Issue 1: Winter of Wellness & Feminine Spirituality