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.

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Departure

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I wander along

a river path,

cross an old pasture

under a forest of cottonwoods –

a sage garden to my right.

The road turns to red dirt.

I feel a sense of peace

but only for a moment –

He spoils the day.

in rampant fury,

hacking away

roots

with a vengeance

that sends

chills

through my body.

Making the choice

for both of us,

I depart in sorrow

and self defense.

This man

who cannot speak

the truth

about what troubles him

blames me instead.

After all, I’m a woman –

A five thousand year old

patriarchal myth

rears its ugly head.

A genuine exchange

is impossible.

In this story

Reciprocity is dead.

Please Give Feminists a Break

I remember so vividly entering graduate school in my early forties and being told I was an “eco – feminist” by my professors. What does that phrase mean I asked having no relationship that I knew of to feminism. Feminists, I thought vaguely, naively, burned bras and hated men…

 

I was asked to read “Woman and Nature; The Roaring Inside Her” by Susan Griffin to help me see who I was, and after finishing this one book I submerged myself feminist writings like a starved woman – child. My teachers were right. I was a feminist – an eco –feminist because I had already made the connection between what was happening to the Earth and what had happened to me. Every tree that was chopped down was a part of me, every stream that was polluted was a part of me every animal that was slaughtered was a part of me because I was a part of Nature. I owed my life to Nature, the only mother I had ever had. I loved Her, honored her, became her fierce advocate and in the process She eventually taught me to love myself.

I had come to feminism through the back door. I was a naturalist, an animal lover, a plant woman whose love for the Earth had sustained her through childhood trauma, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse, my brother’s tragic suicide (after which I totally lost myself entering the ‘dead years’), and finally a through a grotesque experience with physical abuse in my late 30’s during which I was repeatedly battered by a male partner.

I believed I was crazy until I began to have my ideas validated by other feminists some of whom were my teachers. Submerging myself first in eco – feminism and then in feminist scholarship I began to see the world through a very different lens – a lens that included women as part of “his – story” even though most of us remained invisible, and remain so today.

For the first time in my life I allowed my anger to surface and to find home in a lost self that had denied the damage that had left her with PTSD and an anxiety disorder. For a while, my fury/outrage/grief at being treated so horrifically by my family, schools, community, religious institutions, and culture consumed me. Up until that point I had been forced to use denial in order to survive and had turned my anger inward paralyzing myself with self – hatred.

Now I could express that anger appropriately and began to hold members of my family, the men in my life, (eventually including my adult children) and the culture accountable for their despicable actions… Ever so slowly, I began to heal from self – hatred as my fury and outrage peaked and then dissipated.

For about five years I struggled with my rage towards the men in my life who had sexually and emotionally abused me as a child and as a woman who didn’t know how to protect herself (my fifty percent – this is an example of the importance of being accountable – there are always two sides).

Then I left tunnel vision behind and came to the realization that men were not the problem – the culture I had been raised in was flawed, privileging men over women in every way that I could think of. Men were socialized into this privilege by virtue of birth, some, of course, more than others. White middle class men “ruled” the world (and continue to do so today). The “man against nature paradigm” that was so contrary to my lived experience – turning me into an eco – feminist without my knowing it – now became a platform for me to begin telling a different story, a practice I continue to this day.

Patriarchy is an incredibly destructive ideological structure that privileges men over women, men over children, men over Nature. This system oppresses women, children and men who are not part of the dominant material culture albeit in different ways, and this system is what has brought us to the edge of the global political and ecological breakdown we are facing today.

The point of all this story telling is to help women understand that feminism is a perspective worthy of our attention – so worthy in fact that without incorporating a feminist perspective – one that values compassion, cooperation, and equality for all peoples and non human species – we will all be facing extinction.

Recently I read an angry feminists response – probably that of a young woman – that blamed men for women’s oppression. Annoyed by this attitude I remarked somewhat heatedly that hating men was not the answer, forgetting a truth I learned from personal experience, that when women discover feminism it is normal and part of their process to become angry with and blame their personal oppressors. In time this attitude will pass, just as my own anger did.

Blaming is a natural response to being harmed and part of the human condition. It is also an opportunity to begin to grow up and take responsibility for our personal actions, as we pull back our projections and work with our own shortcomings. Most older feminists like me reached that point after a few angry years.

Today we see feminism as a flickering beacon of hope for men, women, children, and the Earth. If we can work together women and men can restore the feminist values of respect, compassion, cooperation. Patriarchy has only been around for about 4000 years. Seeking a matrifocal way of being in the world might save people and the planet from dying an unnatural death.

SO PLEASE, PLEASE, GIVE FEMINISTS A BREAK.

 

What follows is an excerpt from a poem by feminist activist author Robin Morgan written at the time as a result of a visit to South Africa in the 1980’s. I think that Robin can be forgiven for her binary splitting of men and women when she encountered such inequality between the two, and was no doubt struggling to deal with her own anger. As I said, righteous anger is part of every feminist’s growth and that anger needs to be forgiven and understood as part of an ongoing process of female development. We remain as a culture in desperate need. Blaming feminists is NOT the answer.

I think that every woman who reads these excerpts can identify with what it’s like to be a woman. So many “ make do,” and most women remain anonymous to this day..

Robin brings Winnie – Mandikizela Mandela to life. She was named South Africa’s “Mother of the Nation” by the poorest people, the ones who suffered the most. I had never heard of her until Robin wrote this tribute.

“Arbitrary Bread” (excerpts)

…Men make impressions, arbitrary decisions, names
for themselves, wars, profits, laws, reputations,
deals, fortunes, threats, enemies, promises, tracks.

Women make do, ends meet, babies, way, clothing,
breakfast and dinner and supper, quilts, homes,
apologies, baskets, beds, light of it, room….

Beginning again, unlearning how
to make jokes, compromises and bargains,the best of it. Relearning how
to make trouble, a living, a practice of politics.
Cracking wheat, crushing millet, dissolving
salt crystals, pounding the dough. Waiting
the first rise. Reshaping the dough. Waiting
the second. Heating the oven of metal or clay.

Winnie Mandela stands outside
the smoking timbers of what yesterday
was her home. She stares. She does not enter.
Lost articles—inanimate speechless things—flare
to mind, each vivid, crisped, with grief.
The books. The diaries. The humble gifts
from ordinary people. The wedding pictures.
The letters, thirty years of them, from him
in prison. While she raised the children,
carried messages, was banned, was under house arrest,
in jail and out again, while she made visits
to him, made speeches, made an example
of herself, was made his symbol, was made
a metaphor for freedom.

Men manage to make
their revolutions from abstraction. But no slogans
can be made from the thoughts of a woman
sifting the ashes of her life.
The last bed in which they ever slept together,
gone now. The baby pictures. The headscarf her mother
left her, the recipes. The saved invitations
to far countries where she could not go.
The mirror she aged in.

Over and over, practicing how
to make a fresh start, making the most of knowing
the worst of it—not what’s assumed:
that they can torture, degrade, kill, erase you,
but this—that they can just tire you out….

Again and again learning how
to make peace:
cracking open the whole grain of anger,
crushing the fear, dissolving the sense
of futility, deliberately making
believe,
pounding, shaping, reshaping the act—
arbitrary but this time our own….

Clay is the wild crystal
making itself through eons of weathering
by the pounding, cracking, crushing of rocks,
the dissolving of rocks, the absorption
of water in minuscule pores, developing “defects”
in crystalline lattices which collect energy, store it,
transmit it. This is one definition
of a life form.

A regular crystal is perfect, blank until
it receives an imposed pattern of charges.
But clay replicates, layering
pattern on pattern of ions coded in flaws.
Disorder, the woman scientist whispers,
is precisely the thing which can hold information.
Strike an ordinary lump of clay with a hammer:
it blows ultraviolet energy for a month….

I want to make
this so plain
that every woman can feed herself with it,
make it her own, make it
mean what she chooses, make
demands of it, make
it available, make
mischief, a difference, a miracle, ready.

I want to say this in the quietest voice possible:
Give us this day
our arbitrary bread.
Do I make myself
clear?

Copyright 1990 by Robin Morgan. All Rights Reserved.
From: Robin Morgan. “Upstairs in the Garden”

March Moon Grief and Betrayal

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A moon full of grief

spills pale blue light

blinding stars

erasing Shadows

cast over the night –

Exposure to betrayal

is an experience

without parallel.

I weep even as high desert skies

shiver under reflected light

and second sight.

Yet, Venus shines on.

Her silvery orb a

sharpened steel point

an inspiration for some.

We do have a choice.

Betrayal speaks to the severing

of ties – psychological wounds

are no excuse for ending a friendship –

expose lack of integrity and weakness.

Keeping red hearts open

creates space for a rainbow

spectrum of feelings.

Experiencing each honestly

allows love to re – enter,

shattering separateness,

the most sinister human delusion of all.

 

Postscript: I used the image of this morning’s sunrise to highlight the colors of betrayal as I experience them. This poem was inspired by a woman’s betrayal that blindsided me yesterday. The bare trees against the sky remind me so much of this woman and myself, because she loves one tree in particular although my life is permeated with love for all trees. Women and trees simply go together as sisters in mythology as well as in day life. This women, by betraying me, chopped down her own tree.

Witch Hazel Comes to Call

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Through the Looking Glass…

 

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Above: author’s witch hazel tree blossoms

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A scalloped witch hazel leaf highlights this beautiful shrub

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Returning to Red Willow River… Photo Bruce Nelson

 

In Celtic and many other pre –Christian and Indigenous traditions when All Hallows occurs on October 31st the year is coming to a close. What I find most compelling about this ancient nature based religion is that it follows the seasonal round. For example, as I look out my window the fading colors of falling leaves remind me that the Earth is preparing for her winter sleep. In the woods the bears will eat and move less, becoming lethargic as they dig their dens for winter hibernation.

 

After All Hallows, the Feast of the Dead, and All Soul’s Day (a three day festival still celebrated in every country but the United Sates), a space opens up for a number of weeks during the darkest months of the year that doesn’t close again until the winter solstice when the sun reverses his direction. In that “space in between” the veil is thin. It is a time for dreaming, reflection, tying up loose ends, creating intentions for the future, and feeling gratitude for the gift of life. Unfortunately, trickery also thrives in this place, so it is important to stay awake and wary during this darkest time of the year. I follow this ancient tradition because in my world my inner life seems to reflect that of the outer seasonal round and those mysterious spaces in between.

 

This month I reflect upon the last year, re –reading my journals for new insights, identifying old patterns that continue to keep me spinning (some of which I have never been able to change – it seems to me that I have always lived my life on the edge). It takes a certain amount of grit to return to the past, since overall, this year my life has been in a state of chaos and “not knowing” with so many changes taking place – some seemingly miraculous. Yet, deadly repetitions also plague me. This ongoing de-stabilization is not doing much to keep me on an even keel. Each day seems to produce another reversal, a deadly new silence without explanation, or crazymaking confusion that leaves me enervated. I am tired a lot.

 

However, when I peruse my journals or look out the window I recognize that there have been two stabilizing influences in my life that act like the keel of a boat. Human friendships have grown deeper roots, and because for me, Friendship is the taproot of Love, I am grateful indeed for those few people with whom I have come into deeper communion. They know who they are.

 

The other calming influence has been my relationship with my dogs, Hope and Lucy, my dove Lily B, and my enduring love for all Nature. This love is woven through my journals, my dreams, my days and nights, a thread that has sustained me for many years. My curiosity about whatever creature/ tree / plant captures my attention drives most of my writing since Nature also provides the mirror for what is occurring in my life sometimes in uncanny ways. When I write about an animal or plant, even when I am unaware of it, I am also writing about a part of me.

 

And this brings me to Witch Hazel, a plant that I have loved since I was a child. My grandmother always kept a bottle in her medicine closet. Whenever we succumbed to poison ivy blisters, my little brother and I would scratch our skin until it was bleeding and then slather the wounds with witch hazel for instant relief; we loved its smell! And it healed wounds in days.

 

As an adult I have continued to use this plant – based alcohol as a cleanser, an astringent, and to stop bleeding. Recent studies have shown that the active compounds in witch hazel – flavonoids, tannins, and volatile oils act as cleansers because of their astringents and do stop bleeding but Indigenous people had other ways of knowing and understood the healing properties of this plant long ago. In this country they drank witch hazel tea to stop internal bleeding, steamed twigs to soothe sore muscles, and to treat colds and coughs. Today, witch hazel is one of the few medicinal plants actually approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a non – prescription drug ingredient, which unfortunately does not enhance its credibility to me, since the FDA routinely approves potential drugs it has not tested adequately.

 

Indigenous peoples, especially North American tribes also discovered that Y shaped witch hazel sticks could be used to find underground water. Dowsing for water is a skill that I am familiar with because I have used these sticks to tap underground water sources in the past. When the forked stick bends suddenly it is always a surprise, but the water woman in me just smiles.

 

“Water is Life.” Many of us are learning this truth in this time of planetary crisis, but for me that knowledge has been embodied ever since I can remember. Living near/on water has been a necessity, there’s no other way to put it. The only time I lived any distance from this element was during a period in my childhood when we lived in New York, but even then the Hudson was never far, and once back in the country my brother and I had access to my grandparent’s brook where we spent most of our spring, summer, and fall days in play.

 

This “Borderland” tree has magical attributes in both Indigenous America and in Europe, perhaps a quality I may have sensed as a child. The ancient Celts considered it to be the tree at the heart of the Otherworld. In Norse mythology it was known as the Tree of Knowledge. The Greek god Hermes was believed to make himself invisible by using an upright twig of this tree. The witch hazel’s connection to the well of wisdom present in many mythologies is strengthened by witch hazels’ presence around wells, which even today are festooned with votive offerings in Britain and Ireland. The name witch hazel has its roots in wych, an old Anglo – Saxon word that means to bend or shape.

 

As might be expected the witch hazel tree is also associated with women – especially old women, who are both feared and condemned by various cultures but continue today to practice their craft of healing, midwifery and prophecy. The infamous witch burnings in both Europe and America attest to the fear, hatred, and disgust that led to the slaughter of thousands, perhaps a few million innocent woman healers who were considered to be witches. In a peculiar reversal twigs of witch hazel are still used as a form of protection from the witches themselves! Witches are usually women who live alone on the boundaries of their respective cultures and they have intimate relationships with various aspects of Nature including the element of water…

 

The magic powers of witch hazel live on today whenever a water diviner uses a hazel branch to dowse for water. It is believed by some that as the branch bends to reveal water hidden within the ground it is also straining to connect with the ancestors hidden deep within the memory of Earth herself. As a self proclaimed water witch I think there is truth in the above statement.

 

Many years ago when I first bought this land I planted a witch hazel tree down next to my brook. When I built my house I planted a second tree next to my well, and when my brother’s ashes finally came to rest here under Trillium rock, I planted a third tree for him.

 

For the past couple of days these trees have been on my mind because it is almost time for them to bloom. Clusters of small fragrant pale yellow blossoms with finger like petals hug the twigs of this tree – like bush (Hamamelis virginiana) and I wanted to see if any flowers were visible. When I checked the two below the house my brother’s little tree had leaves that were still green, the one by the well had turned yellow… Not surprisingly, blossoms were not present on either plant because neither had lost their leaves.

 

However, when I visited the first witch hazel I planted, now a large graceful vase shaped bush, I was delighted because most of the leaves had fallen and the tiny yellow flowers were in bloom. The blossoms are equipped with both sets of reproductive organs but act as either males (producing pollen) or females (producing fruit)! Small bees and (annoying) gnats are pollinators. Each seed pod has two tiny shiny black seeds which are ejected from  small pods during the following spring.

 

I lovingly trimmed back a few dead branches and made a “Y” shaped stick from one to bring back to the house. Then I photographed a blossom for this blog. In the background the sluggish brook water barely moved over its stony path. Drought is very hard for me to deal with, psychically and physically, so seeing the healthy tree with its new shoots made me very happy. American witch hazel (also imported to Europe) is not really a tree, it is more like a shrub developing many stems as it ages. It attains 15 – 30 feet in stature. It has a number of traits I love including smooth gray bark and an architecture that defies convention. It’s branches zigzag in every direction at once as it roams for light, which it is, because it is an under story tree that thrives in forest openings. It is also one that loves living near water.

 

When I said goodbye to my witch hazel I brought the forked stick back to the house and left it outside the door to remind me of  witch women, women with wings like me who are readying for the transition from one world to another… When I heard the Great Horned Owl call outside my window last night, I thought of my sturdy witch hazel branch… Is it my imagination that the spirit of the old women, witch hazel trees, and owls are all calling me to be present for an important change?

 

Early next month I will be traveling across country to Abiquiu, New Mexico hopefully to enjoy a second fall and a milder winter just as Nature in this part of the country prepares for her long winter sleep.

Firebird’s Song

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She came on the wings of the Owl
flew out of the crack of our imagining,
swooped low over the underground forest
hooing, hooing, hooing

screeching and clacking –
Haunting the night with her song.

I almost didn’t recognize her
inside the feathery brown cape with bars.

On Starry nights while the white moon sleeps
the cloak falls away and behold!
She steps out
in all her Firebird splendor.
Burning, crimson, gold, she crackles — turns blue
white light torching
the fire turned star.
Beaming second sight
she rises out of Earthen ashes

and soars …

To the edge
of the Universe

to the crack between worlds.

– Sara Wright

Postscript 2017

This poem was written/published in “She’s Still Burning” 15 years ago (2002) along with two unforgettable essays well worth the reading. At the time I was writing to save my own life. The poe m was a reference to the day Bush bombed in retaliation to the twin tower disaster, a day I was attending a retreat that involved walking in silence up a mountain. It was on this walk that I saw the owl, and the hole in the tree and “knew” that something horrific had happened. This “presentiment” followed me back to the retreat where I drew a brief charcoal sketch of the black hole in the tree.

Some of us knew what was coming. If the reader goes to Harriet’s site s/he will find an erudite letter written by Mary Meigs that expresses theses same sentiments.

Chilling, these waves of the future.

Women know.

Crows Still Know

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Crowmothers, Come Home

Quorking,
Steel black crows
Hop sideways
Dancing blue light.
Quorking,
Swirling shadows
Arching dipped wings
Feathered to bow.
Quorking,
Beady eyes shift with ease
Peruse rough bark and twig
Circle smooth stones.
Quorking,
Old Woman keening at the well
I listen with fierce attention
Thirsting for threefold vision
Of black winged women
Poised in flight.
Mend the silken silvery thread
Broken so long ago,
Ancient Mothers, rise up —
Shapeshifters! You —
Sing new flesh onto white bone
Craft sharpened beaks out of fish hooks from the deep
Carve all seeing sight
Out of the still nights
Of my imagining
Crow Mothers, please come home.

– Sara Wright

THE CROWMOTHER THREAD

by Sara Wright

Every morning I put out chunks of dry dog food and bits of dried bread for my crows, and then sit with coffee and a pair of binoculars, watching the wily corvids commune with each other, display crow antics and engage in elaborate courtship rituals. A couple of days ago I was rewarded by seeing one crow strip the bark off a half-dead oak branch and fly back over the knoll to its chosen nest site in the woods. Later this same bird, or perhaps the mate, gathered so much deer hair in its beak that the crow looked as if it had grown whiskers! These birds fascinate me. When I found a dead squirrel, I placed it where I leave the other food and noticed that it was two days before any of the crows would get near the carcass. When the first one did, s/he hopped sideways, approaching the dead body from four directions before pecking at it. When I focus on their bead-like eyes, I am astonished. Is it an optical illusion that they seem to peer in all directions almost simultaneously? It feels good that these crows have befriended me. Usually they maintain a healthy distance from humans—with good reason, for they are much maligned.

Often as I watch crows, I think about how they expose the underlying bones of things, not just because they eat carrion, but because they uncover what’s normally hidden in the forest by creating, for example, a frenzy in the air as they circle an intruder, voicing their displeasure with loud raucous cries. Sometimes they mob a tired owl, and I follow their screeching to find the harassed day-sleeping raptor perched precariously on a limb and blinking its eyes in distress. More frequently, I see owls soaring low on silent wings through the trees to escape the crow taunting.

Although my grandmother died in 1974, I can still see her with a pea-green scarf wrapped around her head, walking out to the field with a pailful of scraps as a raucous black cloud hovered above her. Here she comes, the crows would screech with enthusiasm. I have no doubt that my grandmother’s crows were the best-fed corvids around. Although she was often teased about her fondness for crows, she fed them until she died, and I suspect there was more to that relationship than she ever let on.

Whenever I see crows, I also think about my mother because now she feeds her crows as my grandmother did before her. Sadly, my mother has a life history of keeping herself physically and emotionally distanced from me, which has left me filled with a peculiar longing. Perhaps that’s why I think of our crow connection as a kind of cosmic link—one that stretches across time, space, and my mother’s real need to remain separate from her daughter.

When I was in my thirties and early forties, my mother would sometimes refuse to talk to me because of an imagined slight or because I displeased her in some way. When she finally broke her silence, I would discover to my amazement that we had been growing exactly the same herbs or tomatoes or flowers, or that we had both discovered clay as a medium, in the two years since we had last had a conversation. I never spoke to anyone about this bizarre twist to our unstable relationship, but I always wondered what it meant.

Three years ago last winter, I developed a pain in my right breast, and I dreamed that my distressed and tearful mother came to me, and then refused to tell me what was wrong. I remember most from this period the baffling, mindless grief that washed over me repeatedly like an incoming tide. One night during a body meditation, I distinctly heard a French lullaby that my mother loved, being sung somewhere in the air around me. Soon afterwards my son called to tell me that my mother had been diagnosed and operated on for breast cancer during my three-month depression. I experienced her tight-lipped silence as a crushing betrayal. Breast cancer, as I told her later in a letter, is a woman’s disease. I was only vaguely aware at the time that my body had somehow known about the cancer, and had been carrying the burden of my mother’s grief and probably my own. The day my son called with the news, my birdfeeders were suddenly flooded with crows. Both Nature and my body (itself part of Nature) seem able to channel information in unusual ways.

My personal experience supports the ecofeminist idea that women and Nature are inextricably bound together. It also supports my own idea that Nature carries a kind of consciousness enabling living things to communicate with one another across species. All warm-blooded creatures share patterns of instinctual behavior, of course, and this instinctual connection between species is, I believe, the pathway that links us—bird to woman.

Although the crows themselves initiated the possibility of dialogue with me by appearing here last spring to munch on cracked corn that I had left for the wild turkeys, I was the one who encouraged them to stay. They did stay for a while and then drifted off after my brief absence. Now, though, they are taking up housekeeping in the lowland woods behind the house. Each morning when I feed them, I do so with a consciousness of the invisible but genuine connection between this daughter and her mother, a link the crows may be mediating. My intention this time is to keep the lines open and see what happens. I am trusting that the crows know something I don’t because they approached me first. I’ve also learned that it’s useless to turn my back on a Nature connection. Regardless of my personal views on the creature in question, if any animal attempts to enter into some kind of relationship with me, I know something is up!

I also believe that a live crow can be an incarnation of the archetype of the Great Mother in her crone aspect. If I’m right and crows can be Nature’s choice to express the archetypal reality of the venerable crone, then it makes perfect sense to me that crows can help keep the psychic lines open between my mother and me, because, like my mother, I too have become a crone. But what are these winsome corvids trying to tell me?

I believe that on one level my crows are reminding me of the ancient relationship between women and crows, one that has recently been hidden behind the veil of patriarchy. I think that if we develop our connection to them, the crows can help us reclaim our lost woman ground. Barbara Walker confirms this intuition when she says that crows represent the third form of the Triple Goddess (Great Mother), her death aspect. But why the death aspect? I think the answer can be found in crow behavior. This third aspect of the Triple Goddess is about seeing what’s hidden, and getting down to the bones of things, literally picking the bones clean, and preparing for new life. Crows have remarkable sight—a ground way of seeing; they peer beyond the obvious, just as old crones see what others miss. Crows ingest decaying matter and, by doing so, create space for the new; crones not only prepare for death, but assist others during the transition from death to new life. Crones have knowledge of the future, and crows prophesy. Both crows and crones inhabit the edge places: crows hang out at the edge of forests, and crones live on the boundaries of the known and unknown. Perhaps mediating this crow connection can help us as women to reweave the original powers of the Great Goddess, especially the powers of death, back into our Woman Psyche once and for all. To reclaim death is to reclaim the crone in ourselves and to reclaim our own woman ground. Can’t you almost see those three old women who not only spin and weave, but know when it is time to cut the threads?

On a more personal level, I believe that my crows may be trying to mend the broken link between my mother and me. Perhaps the crows are letting me know that underneath the apparent physical separation and emotional distance between this mother and her daughter, there exists an unbroken and ancient connection … and that by listening to my crows, I am able to reach through the veil to pick up that lost thread. My mother sent me a crow feather for my last birthday—maybe her crows have been talking to her too.

Crows are also said to be messengers of the gods, and this oracular or prophetic quality is another of my personal associations with the crow. In fact, I was wary of crows for years because it often happened that crows (or other black birds) appeared during times of painful transition, as they did the day I was told about my mother’s cancer. It doesn’t surprise me that the first stage in alchemical transformation—the nigredo—is often represented by the crow, since one of the bird’s trickster/creator-like characteristics is shapeshifting, and this nigredo is the first stage of change. “From death to life” I seem to hear my crows say as they fly high above me and perch in the towering white pines, and I believe them.

For the Pacific Coast Tlingit Indians, Crow is a central divinity figure, and in other Native American traditions Crow is a sky god associated with the winds (of change?). Jamie Sams, who created the Animal Medicine Cards, sees the crow as the shadow side of reality. For me, Crow embodies both light and dark, life and death aspects of the crone/Nature. In fact, it seems to me that Nature displays genius when she personifies herself in crow form to spin and mend the threads, to prophesy, or to expose the bones of things! Crows are also seen as soul guides, and my favorite crone, the Greek goddess Hecate, is sometimes depicted with a crow. Thinking of Hecate returns me to wondering about the hidden meaning of my own personal crow connection, which I suspect has a lot to do with learning surrender to the wisdom of the archetypal crone and her instinctual ways of knowing.

Today I continue feeding my crows to participate in the wonder that is Nature. I feed them because I feel psychically and physically linked through crows to my mother and to my grandmother, and because something about this woman connection goes beyond the veil that separates life and death. When I feed my crows, I am consciously putting my life in Her hands. It’s at this point that I let go, enter the “Great Mysteries,” pick the bones clean, create new beginnings, and cackle with those wily Crowmothers who are older than time.

Postscript:

These pieces were written and Published in “She’s Still Burning” in 2002 and have been republished by most excellent writer, poet, editor, and now dearest friend, Harriet Ellenberger in her latest installment.

When I wrote the poem and essay I didn’t know how to save anything on a computer so have no record of this writing.  To re -read the material brings me over the edge I presently live on – that of the Great Unknown.

And yet, some things stay the same. My love for Nature and the way she continues to teach me through each animal, bird, tree, or plant that I encounter that indeed we are all interconnected in ways that stretch our imagination… and remind those of us that know, that quantum entanglement is a reality that overshadows space/time as we presently understand it.

Blessings to you Harriet. I hold you in my heart.

 

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