The Age of the Crone

In Praise of Old Women

Posted: 14 Jan 2019 03:00 AM PST

Susan Zerinsky, age 66 and 5’1” tall, has just become the first woman to head the legendary CBS News division. Yes, that CBS News, as in Murrow and Cronkite, which once set the gold standard for broadcast journalism, of late severely tarnished by #MeToo scandals necessitating the firings of Charlie Rose and Les Moonves. Zerinsky came to CBS at age 20, worked her way up, has produced “48 Hours” for years, exercises seven days a week, boxes, lift weights, does Pilates, and has taken SLT classes because she heard they might make her taller. Of the sexual misconduct at CBS, she vigilantly declares, “#MeToo isn’t behind us, it’s part of us.”

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is working from home since being released from the hospital after surgery for two malignant nodules on her left lung. She’s 85 and this was her third bout with cancer. She expects to be back on the bench shortly.

Florida Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, ran for this seat at age 78, because she was tired of getting mad at Trump and not doing anything. She is the oldest ”Freshman” in her House of Representatives class.

There is enormous press coverage of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the youngest woman in that class (just 29), but little about Shalala, while much press attention to the once and now again Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, 78, has been devoted to wondering if she’s too old to do the job. Democratic Representative Maxine Waters of California, 80, who now chairs the influential House Financial Services Committee, breathes fire.  Hillary Rodham Clinton won the popular vote for the Presidency at age 69, watched the election get stolen from her, picked herself up after a grueling campaign and devastating disappointment, and now continues doing work mostly in the cause of women’s equality and empowerment.

In praise of old women? You bet. Notice the “old,” not the euphemistic ”older.” Older than who or what? Let’s free the word “old” from all cutesy, infantilizing euphemisms—“senior,” “golden age,” “oldster,” and similar sins against the English language. Not for nothing was the archetype of the Crone born from poetic imagination. After all, what is perpetual youth but arrested development?

Recently, Jessica Bennett, prize-winning journalist, author, and gender editor of the New York Times (at a mere age 38), wrote a terrific piece that reminded me I hadn’t addressed this issue in far too long. Bennett noted of course that men lead major organizations and nations well into their seventh and eighth decades, retaining power and prominence—and, I’d add, welcome or unwelcome access to much younger women. The current “demographic revolution,” as termed by Prof. Susan Douglas of the University of Michigan, is the result of a half century of Women’s Movement activism from the 1970s straight through to #MeToo. And lifespan has a lot to do with it.

Such a demographic shift was unthinkable when women faced a high risk of dying in childbirth or could enter careers political and otherwise only after their children were grown. But in 2016 the average lifespan of women in the US was 81.1 compared with men’s 76.1, and some 18 percent of women age 70 to 74 are employed. Having a job later in life is more common among women with higher education and savings, Bennett reminds us, while those not employed are more likely to have poor health and low savings, and be dependent on Social Security.

We live in a youth-obsessed culture that propagandizes girls of 13 they need to be anorexic to look glamorous and should shave their pubic hair to seem even younger. The Women’s Movement itself has followed this trend by prioritizing the concerns of younger women and supporting emerging young leaders. That’s perfectly understandable, since the future is theirs, as is the task of carrying on the work. But like everything else, it shouldn’t be an either/or choice, especially when we can opt for both/and.

In some people, age can certainly atrophy a capacity for experimentation, risk, energy, and openness to new ideas, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Furthermore, age has compensatory gifts. Not so much “wisdom,” which some folks, old or young, have and some frankly don’t. But with aging you accumulate experience that you simply couldn’t have acquired earlier. It depends on what you do with it, yes, but you need to have acquired experience even to make that decision. Skill, which is formed by practice—another form of experience—can be another privilege of age. For instance, except for the rare Mozart, the longer an artist can manage to live, generally the better her or his work will become.

Then there’s sex. Some women blossom into a fuller or even entirely different sexuality. Others luxuriate in being alone, able to sprawl diagonally across the bed, and pleasure only themselves. One recently widowed friend chuckled to me, “If I miss cuddling, I’ll get myself a puppy.” There’s also such relief at not sweating the small stuff like you used to, because you’ve learned it passes and is ultimately unimportant. In fact, in retrospect you can’t believe you expended such “passion in a waste of shame“ on certain undeserving crises or persons. In any case, there’s a rejuvenation in energy and intellect that resembles the feminist epiphany, when you realize you actually like who you are.

Christiane Amanpour, 61, says a whole new chapter of her life has opened in replacing Charlie Rose on PBS (there is justice after all). My sister-cofounders of the Women’s Media Center, Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem, are respectively 83 and almost 85, and they tire their younger aides out. Oprah Winfrey is 65. I could go on but you get the point: we don’t lack role models; we lack consciousness of ageism, particularly when combined with sexism. Actor Dame Helen Mirren quipped, “As James Bond gets more and more geriatric, his girlfriends got younger and younger. It’s so annoying.”

In fact, although US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more people over 65—almost 20 percent—are still employed than at any point since the 1960s, women over 50 have the hardest time finding a job. (Not that they don’t work, even when jobless, given all the unpaid, invisible labor women perform lifelong at home and in their communities.)

This is not plain ageism like discrimination against old men who are neither wealthy nor powerful. Ageism against women is uniquely bound up with reproductive capacity and patriarchal sexual preferences. It always comes back to sex and reproduction, which is why those two basic human rights to self-determination remain both starting place and goal for feminism.

Me, I turn 78 in a few weeks, and the reason I can’t quite believe that’s true is not denial but because inside I am basically, oh, 39-40ish. Do I wish my body was younger and without pains in places I didn’t even know I had? Absolutely. But although I’d willingly exchange this body for one of my younger ones, I would not exchange what’s in my mind and spirit for younger versions by even five seconds. I’m busier and happier than I’ve ever been. I love younger women—mentoring them and learning from them—and I’m grateful for and relieved by their unapologetic, fierce feminism. I’m optimistic and cynical at once. I’m no longer fearful of getting furious when I want to be, and I seek approval only from those I truly respect. All this—plus having had decades to develop a wry sense of humor, a practiced capacity to be mindful of every moment of every day, a fascination with humanity’s growing knowledge of the universe (including the thrills of science and awe at the universe), and a sense of absurdity regarding my creative, clumsy, adaptive, cruel, evolving species—gets me through.

So this is in praise of old women. Especially because this spring, 84-year-old Glenda Jackson is bringing to Broadway what theater critics abroad have unanimously declared the greatest single performance of our era: King Lear herself.

So offend, trivialize, or ignore old women at your peril. Respect, support, and welcome the talents and years we have to offer, and together we become women (and men) for the ages.

My commentary:

I love this woman’s writing but especially this week as she celebrates being “old” a word I now use to define myself at 74. Like Robin, I would not trade this age for another because lived experience continues to widen my horizons, brings me joy, creates a space for gratitude to blossom over the simplest of things.

Unlike Robin, I would not trade this aging body for a younger one, even though I am vulnerable to illness due to a chronic stomach condition and an extreme sensitivity to western drugs and Nature’s plight… Why? because it has taken me a whole lifetime to love this little body that is the physical manifestation of the rest of me, and now I feel the deepest compassion for her – an amazing reversal from a life time filled with the filth of Woman’s self hatred.

A Murder of Crows

 

 

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(Wily Black Crow)

My grandmother fed the crows every afternoon and I can remember their cries of anticipation as she walked out into the field with a pail full of scraps. After my grandmother’s death, it was many years before my mother began feeding her crows. But after she started my mother often remarked that she heard them say, “Oh here she comes!”

 

Up until recently I didn’t know why my grandmother and mother had a penchant for crows – I wish I had asked for personal explanations. But my neighbor Rose in Maine has been feeding her crows for ten years, and last week when I learned that all of her crows had been shot by hunters on her own land, I was enraged by this injustice. Rose loved her crows; She was devastated.

 

First, I discussed the problem with Raven who was perched in a cottonwood tree outside my door. He listened intently to my plea for help while peering down at me with one beady eye.

 

Normally, I do not have crows around here so ten minutes later when a “murder of crows” appeared screaming over my head as I walked down to the river I knew the raven had passed on the message. I repeated the story to the screeching crows asking that they inform other crows in Rose’s neighborhood that she was in crow mourning. Would they consider asking others to visit her? I took their collective cries as a yes.

 

Returning to the house I was stunned to see another cluster of crows perched in one tree engaged in raucous conversation with at least 4 magpies that had joined them. The raven had been joined by its mate (A bevy of crows, two ravens and four magpies stayed around the house for 3 days).

 

Convinced that I had been heard, and that something would come of it, I immediately emailed Rose telling her not to give up, to keep leaving scraps outside, and to begin to “call” new crows into her yard. She was skeptical, but did as I asked. As a personal thank you I began to leave tasty tidbits for the crows, ravens, magpies around here.

 

One week later Rose has seven new crows to feed! The skeptic will immediately counter the obvious: namely that the crows intervened, with reason and logic. The crows returned by coincidence or because at my request, Rose continued to leave food out for them. There’s one major flaw in this thinking: Crows routinely demonstrate to researchers that once one of them has been killed the rest will avoid a favored feeding area for up to two years. “Something” intervened to reverse this normal crow behavior, allowing the crows to return, and I believe it had everything to do with (crow –human) interspecies communication.

 

Although I wouldn’t have begun feeding crows on my own, outrageous crow slaughter had changed my mind! Armed with the knowledge that birds and animals can communicate telepathically through space/time, I never doubted that help would come. If one understands as I do that telepathy is a biological survival strategy that allows animals to stay in touch when they are separated then it isn’t a stretch to believe that these crows communicated with their Maine relatives. (Please go to biologist/plant physicist/author Rupert Sheldrake’s site to learn more about the extensive research that has been done on telepathy in animals https://www.sheldrake.org).

 

Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal act resulting from a formal treaty signed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, under this act, crows may be ‘controlled’ without a federal permit when found “committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.” What this means practically is that anyone with a gun can shoot a crow because humans have all the rights. Hunters like to kill, and crows make great target practice.

 

Crows are amazing opportunists who can adapt easily to changing environments. Crows are extremely intelligent and use tools to help them obtain food. Crows not only use tools but they also make them! They are excellent mimics who deliberately confuse other birds by copying their calls. They steal food from other birds and shiny objects from humans including car keys left in an open car highlighting their deceptive trickster-like nature. Crows are busy bodies paying close attention to what their neighbors are doing, human and otherwise. They can be bullies who mob a sleeping owl during the day. They eat garbage of all kinds, and exhibit loud and raucous behavior. They have big mouths that alert other species in field and forest to the presence of unwanted hunters and others. Crows are also black a color many modern folks associate with racism and/or “evil” especially during this ugly cultural reign of “white” supremacy. These qualities of adaptation, intelligence, tool making/using, deception, mimicry, curiosity about others, bullying, ingesting garbage including dead animals/humans, raucous behavior in crowds, the big mouths of certain individuals, and the fact that they are black, the color most commonly equated with evil in western culture leaves Corvids suspect and extremely threatening to some. Crows exhibit all kinds of behavior that is human-like and people despise them for this tendency. Crows reflect the shadow side of today’s culture much like the coyote does.

 

In reality Crows are a fascinating species of birds with a very complex family system. Crows mate for life and both parents are actively engaged in parenthood. They care for their young for a period of up to five years with the help of “aunts,” siblings, and older youngsters who protect the youngest birds after hatching (3 or 4 eggs). Baby crows fledge in about a month after being fed all kinds of insects (any crop damage that is blamed on crows is offset by the millions of crop damaging insects these birds consume). During the nesting period and long afterwards the guardian crows watch vigilantly for hawks, eagles and other predators who are a threat to the youngsters. Even with this kind of vigilance fifty percent of the fledglings die before reaching adulthood. The crow’s worst threat is humans who kill them indiscriminately by shooting them, poisoning them, trapping them or deliberately running them over with automobiles or trucks. As previously mentioned, in today’s culture man can’t stand the sight of his own shadow.

 

These remarkable birds have been able to adapt to virtually every environment on earth with the exception of Antarctica and are as home in cities as they are in the countryside. In cities they learn the garbage truck routes and pick through refuse for tasty offerings! They raid cornfields without guilt. They do the rest of us a favor by ingesting carrion that would otherwise smell as it rots. Crows honor their dead by gathering together in large numbers and stay with a deceased crow for hours, sometimes days, before moving quietly away.

 

Crows spend a lot of time studying people with their bright beady coal black eyes. They recognize the faces of those people who have killed a crow. They communicate this threat to the others in their flock and can also educate the next generation of young who will also avoid the people who would harm them. Crows have at least 20 distinct vocalizations. Some like the “caw” are public but most occur between individuals.

 

Crows will abruptly change migration routes to avoid predation. In most areas in the US the crow is a permanent resident but many Canadian birds will migrate southward during the winter months. Once the mating season is over crows gather in large groups (in some places they gather by the thousands) to roost communally at night.

 

American crows are monogamous as previously mentioned. Mated pairs form large families of up to 15 individuals that are all related and remain together for many years. American crows do not reach breeding age for at least two years.

 

The nesting season starts early, with some birds incubating eggs by early April. Crows build bulky stick nests nearly always in trees but sometimes also in large bushes and, very rarely, on the ground. Most predation of crows (with the exception of humans) occurs at nesting sites. Besides hawks, snakes, raccoons, ravens, domestic cats and great horned owls also eat eggs and nestlings.

 

Adult crows are omnivorous eating mice, frogs, seeds, eggs, fish, corn, wheat, and grains as well as gobbling up destructive insects. During the autumn and winter they gravitate towards nuts and acorns. We know they scavenge at landfills. Along with their attraction to grains as food, this tendency earned them the name “nuisance” birds giving hunters an excuse to shoot them when all the crows are doing is trying to earn a living.

 

Crows have been killed in huge numbers by humans, both for ‘recreation’ and as part of organized campaigns of extermination, none of which have worked to decimate the populations. Like the coyote they continue to thrive!

 

The easiest way to distinguish between crows and ravens, two closely related species, is to note whether the crows are flying without flapping their wings every few seconds. Ravens soar on the thermals. Another difference between crows and ravens is the shape of their tails. Crows have rounded tails while those belonging to ravens are wedge shaped. If seen flying at a distance the distinctly larger ravens have larger heads. Ravens also fluff their throat feathers when calling from the trees.

 

Crows lifespan in the wild is about 7-8 years but those in captivity can live more than 30 years.

 

Because they are opportunists and so adaptable crows are one species that is not on the endangered species list. What a relief. My guess is that they will outlast humans.

 

Unlike today’s culture, crows were once respected and revered for the remarkable qualities they exhibited. Indigenous peoples of the Americas understood that crows were special.
For the Tlingit (North-West of the Pacific), the crow is the main divine character. He organizes the world, and creates both civilization and culture.
For the Haïda (North-western coast of the Canada), the crow steals the sun to give it to the People. Crow and raven have a magic canoe that can become big enough to contain the whole universe.
In the south and Northwest Crow flaps his wings generating wind, thunder and lightning.

 

In ancient European mythology- the cult of Mithra is a prime example – Crow fights evil and has the capacity to break dark spells.

 
Scandinavians legends show two crows, perched on Odin’s chair : Hugi, the Spirit, and Munnin, the Memory. Both crows symbolize and embody the principle of creation, the power of Nature to create and form patterns of becoming and through memory. In much same way, these birds are the companions of Wotan who is also named the god of the crows.

 

As a feminist I am particularly interested in the relationship between crows and old women, both of which have been demonized – old women are frequently called ugly old hags while old men are “distinguished”, and rarely referred to as old. Another example is the phrase “those old crows” which is often used to describe old women. In western culture we worship the young, the “heroic”, fear aging, and split ourselves away from old women and death demonizing both in the process. And yet in mythology we see the power of old women and crows.

Baba Yaga, the greatly feared Slavic goddess of the Forest who lives alone in a house (with her animal familiars) that that moves around on chicken legs, is a perfect example. Baba Yaga transforms into a crow whenever she chooses. This powerful figure embodies Nature’s wisdom, the wisdom of heart – body instinct; she is also a trickster who is unpredictable in her actions. She is an aspect of woman centered Nature, a protector of all forest wildlife and she has a penchant for all black birds.

Dhumavati is the Hindu goddess of “the great void”- the place outside time, (as humans experience it). She is associated with death and therefore transformation. Many of her drawings and paintings depict her on a cremation ground and often she looks like death itself, and is depicted as an ugly old hag. Note the correspondence between old and ugly. She carries the horn of the death god Yama, and sometimes wears a garland of severed heads. It comes as no surprise that Dhumavati’s animal guardian is a scavenger bird – the crow. Dhumavati is depicted as either riding a large crow or being pulled in a chariot by two blackbirds. Crows are known to be scavengers on the battlefield, and hence have been associated with death since ancient times.

The Morrigan is an Irish Celtic goddess with the ability to shapeshift. She was known as the Phantom Queen. She is also said to be one of a trinity of sisters (daughter, mother, crone). The Morrigan is most well-known for being a goddess of Fate and a warrior; she was able to predict death which made her presence terrifying. Most commonly she shapeshifted into a crow, although she could take the form of any animal she chose. She is known for her role in battle, her ability to triumph over “evil.” The fact that the Morrigan shifts into the form of a crow while on the battlefield reveals her dominion over death. It is said that she will often fly above a battle, her cry bringing courage and encouragement to her warriors, whilst simultaneously striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. Sometimes she will join in the battle in her human form. She speaks of the battlefield as ‘her garden,’ a place to consume the dead for re birth. One of her names, Badbh, means Crow.

Nephthys the Egyptian Goddess of the Dead is another example of a goddess who manifests as a crow. In the myth, Nephthys marries her brother Set who is the god of disorder, the desert, and storms, birthing Osiris who literally rises from the dead.

While Nephthys is often depicted as a woman with falcon-wings, she also appears as a crow or the crow is her companion. She oversees funerary rituals. Nephthys represents part of the life cycle that is death, while her twin sister Isis represents birth (note how death and life are never separated).

Again and again in the stories about old women in their crow aspect we see the same archetypal pattern emerging. These much feared death goddesses are both manifestations of death and are the harbingers of new life. Without old women “crows” there would be no new life.

When I think of my mother and grandmother feeding the Corvids it occurs to me that these two were participating in the life death life cycle of Nature… As I put together an offering for the crows and walk out my door I carry the awareness that like my mother and grandmother before me, I too am now participating in the Great Round, serving the continuation of Life for all.

I end this essay with a caveat: to mindlessly slaughter crows is to incur the wrath of Nature, She is more than capable of retaliation for harm done as we are starting to see with the ravages of Climate Change…Another way to state the same idea is to state that by refusing to own our “dark sides” on a collective level we will invoke consequences that are devastating to all. On a personal level folks may also find that un – integrated personal “Shadow” turns back on them in terrifying ways they cannot anticipate.

I think I just heard the cawing of a murder of crows…

Be – Friending Our Dragons

( Above: work by Artist Armando Adrian – Lopez  http://www.armandolopez.com)

 

“We are an overflowing river.
We are a hurricane.
We are an earthquake.
We are a volcano, a tsunami, a forest fire…”

 

These words written by Judith Shaw speak to the merging of woman’s anger with Earth’s natural disasters, suggesting to me that women use “natural” violence in order to create change.

 

Violence, not the values of compassion and cooperation.

 

Violence and power over are the primary tools that Patriarchy uses to control women and the Earth.

 

Engaging in more violence will not solve the problems we face.

 

So many women including me are struggling like never before to survive on the edge of a culture that continues to sanction the vicious ongoing rape of both women and the Earth.

 

I use the death of trees as a primary example of the latter. By logging trees by the billions or killing them in “controlled burns” we are literally destroying human and non – human species. Without trees/plants we lose the oxygen we need to breathe.

 

We need “woman – centered” women to say NO!!! WE WON’T TOLERATE LIVING IN A DEATH DESTROYING CULTURE PREDICATED ON RAPE OF WOMEN AND THE EARTH.

 

We need women who are willing support other women – Women who refuse to remain neutral – Women who don’t wait until their mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, granddaughters are assaulted to take a stand with other women – Women who refuse to stand behind their men when those men continue to support the soul destroying culture of Patriarchy with their attitudes (males or male identified women – the latter are often “Father’s Daughters” in Jungian parlance) – Women who refuse to support a Patriarchal system that is destroying us all.

 

Women centered women can change the trajectory we are on if we can unite in spite of differences… not through violence but through sheer numbers, using cooperation and compassion as our weapons. Women are potentially a powerful force to be reckoned with, making up more than half of the population, and yet in the last presidential election 52 percent of white women voted to elect a crazed misogynist…

 

This morning I read a comment about Jung’s work that addressed an issue that is critical to women reclaiming their authentic power. To paraphrase: In depth psychology riding the dragon is still interpreted as the task of conquering and subduing the archaic instincts of the reptilian brain.

 

As a former Jungian analyst who left her practice when she realized that this psychological approach helped keep women powerless and enthralled to Patriarchy through control and subjugation of woman’s instincts, I would argue that women desperately need to develop a loving relationship with their instinctual “dragons” – anger, fear, outrage – because these instincts protect us, and help us to create change by funneling our energy outward in creative ways.

 

To illustrate my point I want to digress into personal story.

 

The day after Kavannaugh was confirmed I found myself paralyzed with hopelessness. As a sexual assault survivor I was so depressed that the only reason I got out of bed was because a very gifted Mexican/Indian artist, Armando Adrian Lopez was part of an artist’s tour that was occurring that weekend, and I knew I needed to go visit him.

 

Armando’s work depicts women in a mythical context, one replete with mystical and (usually) benign images of the goddess. After being around Armando and his work for one afternoon I felt some sense of comfort remarking to him that “today of all days I really needed to be here.”

 

I returned the next afternoon and asked Armando if I could take a couple of pictures of his work. Later when I was reviewing the images I was particularly struck by one of a woman with a dragon at her side, holding a Tree of Life with eyes embedded in her leaves.

 

During the next PTSD/depression driven month I looked at that image again and again, plumbing its depth for a new personal message, eventually coming to the conclusion that I needed to court my own dragons in a more loving way. It is a testament to the trauma that I experienced over Kavanaugh’s appointment that I am only now starting to understand what happened to me.

 

Befriending our dragons speaks to the need to fall in love with our dark sides and allow them to lead us into new ways of thinking and being in the world. The dragons of anger, grief, and outrage have helped me clarify my new position with respect to woman/Earth hatred.

 

Because I have been an advocate for women for so many years, I used to believe that it was critical to be inclusive and include all women in my advocacy regardless of their ability to be present for other women in distress. But some women ‘s support of Kavanaugh (boys will be boys mentality) or their neutral reactions to this man’s appointment to the Supreme Court, a confirmation that sanctions rape once again while dismissing women’s cries of outrage and grief, has created a monumental split in my thinking and feeling. To listen to women who seem to think that rape not a crime against all women stuns and horrifies me. To listen to women who attempt to “compromise” on the subject of rape repels me.

 

For the last few weeks I have been swimming in the sea of confusion and repressed anger. How can I continue to support indifferent women? I struggled with this question just as I struggled to contain my feelings of being betrayed by these same women.

 

Finally, I emerged on the other side with clarity and a new perspective. Today, I can say that I am no longer willing to support women’s deliberate or tacit support of rape through rational thinking or “neutrality.” When women continue to make cases for the one man who was sexually abused, or verbally attacked by a grieving woman, or the woman who has to stand behind her man because she is too emotionally needy to stand alone I say NO! NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

 

Rape of Women and the Earth are egregious criminal acts and the two are intimately connected.

 

I have made a difficult and painful choice to separate emotionally from those women while working towards developing more compassionate attitude towards them – a new “both and” perspective. I can do this easily when I remind myself that I too am a Daughter of Patriarchy and once exhibited many of the same behaviors…

 

After a month of crushing depression I am courting the red dragon of rage with awareness, embracing her, thanking her for helping me see that I must choose her wisely. S/he can help me survive atrocities by refusing to allow me to collude with those who would betray me, other women, the Earth.

 

I stand with woman – centered women without apology – those women who are in the position to shift death into life. I appeal to all women and men who love women to join us.

 

As if to concretize my thoughts in the material world this morning I discovered my own “dragon” in the form of one of my very friendly house lizards (who live around the outside walls of the house) scurrying across the living room floor! This one is a little female. I think she may want to spend the winter with us. I welcomed her with joy reveling in the synchronicity even as I, oh so reluctantly, released her outside on the garden wall, fearing some unintended mishap with the dogs if she stayed… If she returns a second time I will assume she knows more than I do about what’s good for her and will fashion a terrarium for her to sleep in safety for the winter…

 

In closing, anger and rage are powerful gut (reptilian/serpentine/ dragon-like) emotions that motivate us in potentially creative ways.

 

I choose to embrace my dragon, use the Tree of Life as my staff and guide, keep my eyes wide open.

 

I will continue to protest rape as a crime against all women, advocate for those who are woman centered, choose compassion as a bridge to others, and continue to cry out on the Earth’s behalf.

 

With my new perspective and awareness, I can feel/experience my red dragon as lover and allow her/him to guide me as I re- align myself with Life.

 

Regardless of outcome.

 

 

Afterthought:

 

After writing this narrative I asked myself how I had gotten so stuck in the first place. The answer came immediately. I had fallen into the Patriarchal Pit where anger and rage are unacceptable emotions to express, especially if you are a woman.

How are we unconsciously controlled by Patriarchy? By shame, of course. Because women are denigrated for having these “negative” emotions it’s not surprising that we fear to express them. And we must in order to become effective agents of change in our own lives or those of others.

As I see it now, in my traumatized state I fell into an old pattern of thinking – one with the destructive values of Patriarchy at its core. Today I embrace that daughter with heartfelt compassion reminding her that her conditioning does not this woman make!

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(Photo credit: Iren Schio)

Author reclaiming her power on the mountain

Paying Homage to Hestia

(one of author’s dogs, “Hope,” gravitates instantly to the heat of the wood stove)

This morning I was kneeling in front of my new wood stove kindling a fire from hot coals when I felt the presence of the Greek Goddess Hestia, Lady of the Hearth moving through the house. The goddess manifests as a crackling wood fire, and when I kneel before my wood stove to coax coals into flames I feel as if I am paying homage to her.

I have spent two winters without a wood stove, and have missed this ritual fall lighting of the fire, and the knowing that I am participating in ancient practice that extends back far beyond the Patriarchal Greeks to the dawn of humankind.

Today I felt her presence in a visceral way as I looked out the window at the first flakes of white snow disappearing into wet ground, and felt the hearth warming beneath my feet.

Hestia symbolizes the importance of creating sacred space within one’s home by honoring the fire that turns wood to ashes and re –kindles itself, resurrecting what was dead. This is also a time to give thanks for every tree that sacrifices itself to keep us warm…

Hestia’s name means “hearth” or “fireplace,” and her status shows how important the hearth was in the social and religious life of Ancient Greeks. Making and preserving fire was essential for early cultures, which made the household fire a sacred element at a very early stage of “her – story.” In later days, Hestia became its embodiment.

Hestia received the first offering at every meal in the household with families pouring sweet wine in her name and dedicating the richest portion of food to her.

The hearth fire in the household was not allowed to go out by any family unless it was ritually distinguished.

In the Greek myth, Hestia was one of three “virgin” goddesses; the other two were Athena and Artemis. I interpret this virgin aspect as being “one unto herself, indicating wholeness which has nothing to do with chastity. Athena was a goddess of war and got lots of attention, Artemis was Mistress of Wild Animals and also a great huntress. Hestia was acknowledged as Mistress of the Fire, and cultivator of the home place. Of the three goddesses she got the least attention, probably because the Greeks were a Patriarchal warring culture that valued men over women, and thrived on conquest, rape, and killing (power over). Honoring any peaceful nurturing goddess of the household was less important.

There is an interesting story about a potential rape of Hestia by a drunken god while she was sleeping. The braying of a distressed donkey awakened Hestia in time to ward off this atrocity and thereafter, on Hestia’s feast day a donkey that wore a garland was included in Hestia’s festivities. This intervention by a loving animal may carry a significance that is easily missed. Animals can represent women who are living in a state of wholeness because they have married instincts to awareness. To become en – souled is a holy undertaking that connects a woman to All That Is.

This autumn I welcome Hestia as Keeper of the Fires into this house asking for her blessing, honoring WOMAN who tends the potentially transforming element of contained fire in her own home or realm.

The End of Democracy?

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All three sides of this terrifying sculpture

 

I recently read Carol Christ’s response to an article “ The Patriarchy Will Always Have Its Revenge” (New York Times) with respect to our current political insanity with regard to women and rape. Carol wrote, “I find myself caught in the undertow of bad memories, stuck in a simmer of rage. My hands furl into fists. My jaw clenches. My teeth grind in the night.”

 

Mine too.

 

The Brett Kavanaugh case makes it abundantly clear we still blame women for rape even when the woman is a child.

 

The independent and most neutral of all papers from my point of view, The Guardian, states that according to the New England Journal of Medicine, rape is about four times more likely to result in diagnosable PTSD than combat.” I would add that attempted rape has the same result.

 

As a woman who has suffered from PTSD her entire life, has a history of sexual abuse, and has worked with abused women during most of her adult years I know from personal experience that this statistic is accurate, and as a therapist, I recognize that attempted rape destroys a woman’s sense of self in mind, body, and soul, just as actual rape does.

 

Ironically, the same morning I read Carol’s post a man posted the above picture on FB stating “that the sculpture was about a man thinking about wife giving birth.” WHAT? This frightening triple image spoke volumes to me about the hold real men and the dominant Patriarchal culture have had over Women and the Earth for millennia.

 

But thankfully not all men. John Erickson asks the same questions in his post on feminismandreligion.com that I have been asking as the horrors mount:

 

“If you are like me, you have found yourself, more times than one I am guessing, watching the news, mouths agape, mind in disbelief, and your heart heavy with grief and sadness. While these great travesties occur, I find myself wondering what is the cost? How many children must be locked in cages? How many women must come forward with accusations of sexual assault and rape? How many more people must accuse the President of harassment and assault? How many more anonymous op-eds and faulty promises must be made before we finally all see that the real cost, is that these great travesties themselves (too many to recall here) are what it really takes to take down imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

 

He continues: “People have grown weary of having me at parties because my normal talking points are:

  1. Asking people if they’re registered to vote (and if not, why aren’t they?)
  2. Making sure people are discussing difficult issues with their friends and families that may or may not support Trump…
  1. Asking how long they think it will be until we are actually living in The Handmaid’s Tale universe?”

He also reminds us that this is more than about Trump’s presidency. Trump’s election is a symptom of the disintegration of an entire culture.

 

John finishes his essay by encouraging us to vote.

 

In my despairing state I have reached the same conclusion. There’s nothing else left to do. If we don’t vote in November to begin the process of ending this insanity, feminist or non –feminist, Democracy will be dead.

Second Class Citizen

When he backed me

up against the tree

inching towards me

menacingly

with his big powerful car

I couldn’t believe

what was happening.

I was holding the space

for a car full of dogs

waiting to park

just behind him.

 

He got out of the car

and I said

You can’t do this

this spot is taken.

Six feet tall, he sneered

You can’t save spaces

in a parking lot.

 

I have two dogs

and they won’t allow

them in the store –

it’s too hot in the sun

I need this spot,

I tried to explain.

I have dogs too

the man replied.

Are they with you

I asked?

– Giving him

a chance to redeem

himself.

 

No. My dogs

are home.

Then you of

all people should know

how I feel.

He laughed,

his mouth twisted

into a grimace full of scorn,

tossed a golden mane

dismissing me.

Walked off

so full of himself

and his rights.

 

“You Bastard”

I cried out twice

as two employees,

both boys,

snickered enjoying

the fun at my expense.

One had the audacity

to tell me

I was troublemaking

in a public parking lot.

 

To them

a 73 year old

woman being driven

from a tree shaded space

while advocating

for animals and human decency

was nothing but a joke.

 

In the car

I cursed the man

flung poisoned arrows

his way,

knowing that nothing

would take away

the pain of knowing

that as a woman

and as an elder

I had less rights

than these arrogant

men and boys.

I am by virtue of my sex

a second class citizen

in a woman hating culture

that just won’t quit.

 

Working notes:

 

The encounter in the parking lot followed another that occurred when I tried to enter the store I have shopped in before with my two dogs. This time, barred at the entrance, I was asked if my dogs were service dogs. When I said they were I was interrogated. What was my problem? I suffer from PTSD I told them and these dogs are my support system. All this was true. “An emotional problem doesn’t classify as a reason to enter the store with animals.” What?????

 

You can be sure that if I was an ex-military man accompanied by dogs who said he suffered from PTSD no one would have barred him from the store.

 

To be singled out as a “second class citizen” twice in one day because I am a woman diminished me as a human being against my own will. Old wounds surfaced. I am full of holes that I cannot repair because lack of accountability on another’s part ensures that shame will once again attach itself to me.

 

The Terrifying Power of Denial and Commentary

 

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(my photo)

The Wings of a Butterfly

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Denial is a silent violence that aims to make invisible a trauma maybe evident or not, to make it acceptable as normal and allow the victims of this trauma to be exploited from a system of oppression or people in power. Denial is that voice sugarcoated with correctness that asks us to shut up and sit down on our own pain so as to not disturb anyone. Is a silence that yells loudly, because sooner or later it will speak through the different ways we hurt ourselves and others.

It is not a mystery that women all over the world are subjected to a variety of violence and oppression. Women and girls are hijacked, raped, assaulted, murdered, their experiences mocked or banalized and their bodies thrown around like trash. People get outraged asking how this is possible? Well, this is possible because when a girl is born, she is “bestowed” the foundational denial that will allow the normalization of this violence and belittling during all her life: The denial that she is a human being.

Women in patriarchal societies are not people: we are bodies, objects, “pussies” but not individuals. The society not only allows this, endorses it and benefits from, by keeping women in the denial of our personhood and humanity making sure we accept this situation through the process of socialization. Women have been taught to live in denial to support a narrative that oppresses us. We learn to accept the denial of our humanity and to sustain the denial of the humanity of other women. A woman who doesn’t embrace herself and other women with empathy can’t be free and the system is everyday at work to prevent women from loving ourselves and each other. We are the result of centuries of pedagogy that creates mistrust between women, and the validation and reproduction of our oppression and conditioning towards mutual competition.

All the violence a female will live along her life, both in the personal and public sphere are expressions of the denial of her humanhood as a political mechanism of control on her, because all oppressed bodies, as women bodies are oppressed, are social spaces. The denial of human-hood for women and how this expresses through our bodies get a broader dimension for the trauma inflicted by denial if we consider that nothing we experience is foreigner to the body: All happens in our bodies: ideas, tastes, sensations, laugh and sorrow, reproduction, pleasure, feelings and spirituality…. Who controls women´s bodies, controls society. The violence that terrorizes us today is the projection of an accumulative process that can be tracked centuries ago. The system we live in is designed to produce this violence against women, but it’s in denial of its own participation as enabler and this makes it very difficult to achieve the very needed changes to stop it, because denial can only perpetuate abuse.

Talking about intergenerational trauma I had to link that phenomena to women’s lives as oppressed group. Women are receptors and transmitters of trauma and denial. Assuming that my history is similar to the history of other women, both at existential and biological level, I wonder: What of the traumas that my body expresses belong to my life story and which ones mirror other women’s pain – my mom´s pain, my grand mother´s pain and my female ancestors? Which of my sufferings will my daughter express? How much of what has been written on my body and what of what has been denied will people read in the eyes of my granddaughter, if I have one, someday?

I have a tattoo on my right shoulder. It’s the simple drawing of a butterfly with open wings. It makes me remember everyday that no matter how hard and ugly experiences you might live through, you always can become something beautiful and shiny by yourself. 10 years ago I was raped by a man I was dating. What happened to me from the day after was a journey through denial: The denial of the police that what I had lived was rape. The denial of justice, since my perpetrator was never prosecuted. The denial of people around me who didn’t give me space to talk about. The denial of my humanity from other women who said that, in a way, I deserved it.

Dismantling a system of oppression starts from doing it within each of us from what we have all been shaped at its convenience and resemblance. For women this means to break the glass wall of denial, to demand our and other women’s human-hood, to develop empathy among women in the context of oppression, which allows us to see ourselves as people and see ourselves in other women, to build a sense of community to resist the violence that means to survive in misogynist societies. Any idea of social equality that aims to be serious must be based in the radical notion that women are people. This notion, deliberately absent or suppressed so far, has power to transform our lives, our relationship with other women and society from the very basis.

My butterfly, ready to fly is a reminder that I have survived sexual violence and the violence of denial, to claim my fundamental act of justice every day: Stand up every new morning, face up before the world with my story, with a voice that clearly speaks up its truth, embracing my personhood to walk wrapped in authenticity on my way through, leaving a trace of courage, resilience, and love.

Here is to women who challenge denial to rise from the ashes of trauma and gather their courage to survive, to release, to heal, to thrive, to break free; who won’t be silenced, rather awake and loudly thriving.

Those women deserve what they dream.

Wings and Power to you.

 

(All bold italics highlight sentences or paragraphs that struck me as most meaningful)

My Commentary:

Every now and then I read a piece of writing that simply screams to be noticed. Vanessa’s writing is a perfect example.

Denial is one of the most destructive and effective strategies used by humans to destroy one another. It is also the most invisible, and in my opinion because of this characteristic, the most frightening….

Having been socialized into denial as a way of life as a child I have struggled mightily to throw off this deadly cloak throughout my life and have succeeded… Pain incites the fires of transformation.

I encounter denial on a daily basis with people I know well, family members included. Both women and men use this strategy and think they get away with it, but of course they don’t because eventually everyone loses.

There is no way through. Denial is a wall made of cement. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out.

It is because of denial that we find ourselves on the edge facing human extinction.

No small thing, that.

I chose the Luna Moth as an image because these moths have eyes in their bodies that see through delusion, and they take flight at night.