Healing the Cosmic Woman’s Wound

Among the Grail legends is the story of the Fisher King.  The Fisher King lives in the Grail Castle and has been wounded in the “thigh” and, as a result, his kingdom is a wasteland, barren and full of sorrow.  Only when someone comes and asks “Who does the Grail serve?” will the King be healed and the land restored to abundance.  This story is said to express not just one man’s wound, but a cosmic male wound that leads to despair and global destruction. 

When we consider all that the location of the wound means – regeneration of life, feeling, separation from the Creator and so much more – we see how it is, indeed, representative of the wound that all men suffer when they are told not to cry and not to feel, when we give them toy guns and teach them to make war instead of dolls to love and nurture.  It is clear how this wound does lead to despair and global destruction. 

But, if that is the male cosmic wound, what is the cosmic wound for women?  Where are the female versions of the Fisher King in folklore and literature?

The story of The Handless Maiden comes immediately to mind and has been paired with the Fisher King by others.  In a version of this story beautifully retold by Clara Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves, a young woman is sold to the devil by her father.  However, when the devil comes to collect her, he cannot get her because she has purified herself and stands in a chalk circle she has drawn.  Even when she does not bathe so she may become impure, her tears run onto her hands, purifying her and she is still out of the devil’s reach. The devil insists that the father cut off her hands so that her tears will not run onto her hands and purify her.  The father does as he is told but the devil is still rebuffed.  When the defeated devil leaves, the father offers the handless maiden a home, but she, instead, walks off into the woods where she eventually meets a king who marries her and after a number of adventures, her hands grow back and they live happily ever after.

Many, many analyses of this story exist by people with more expertise than I have and some relate it to a cosmic wound.  Like all meaningful stories, it has many levels and many possible interpretations and these interpretations are valid.  However, I have another interpretation.  As mysterious and meaningful as this story is, it does not feel to me that being handless is the female cosmic wound from which all other wounds come.  It does seem like another, female, version of the Fisher King, in the sense that hands are the way we create and feel.  Losing one’s hands is certainly a grievous injury and women do suffer from being severed from their creativity forces and emotions. But, to me, that is not the deepest wound I feel.  Women have found ways to be creative and regenerate life, and are not considered to be unfeminine if they express caring and compassion.  Also, the handless maiden’s regrowth of her hands is almost incidental to the story.  It happens after she has already found happiness.

To me, the cosmic female wound goes beyond this.  When women became wounded, the world became a place of barrenness and despair and so out of alignment with the paradise it was meant to be that the wound became almost unknowable.

While The Handless Maiden’s loss of her hands may not be the cosmic wound in my interpretation, I think the story does hold the key.  The maiden’s fortunes begin to turn around when she walks away from her father.  Until this point, she has passively accepted all that others have done to her.  She has allowed herself to be sold and to have her hands cut off.  She rejects her father’s offer of a home and walks away into the woods.  It is at that point that her healing begins as she makes her own fortune.  She is free.

To me, the cosmic woman’s wound is the loss of freedom: freedom to be who we are, freedom to do what we wish, freedom to live where and as we wish, freedom to marry or not and whom to marry, freedom to bear children or not, freedom to earn our living as we wish, freedom to dress as we wish, freedom to live in society or away from it as a hermit.  I sometimes wonder if any woman on Earth really knows what true freedom is.  Perhaps we have not identified it in terms like “the cosmic wound” because we don’t know what it is like to not be wounded.

Stories do exist that talk about women’s loss of freedom, especially those of mermaids or selkies/silkies who are forced to marry and live on land until they find some object, a pelt or bridle, that was stolen from them, leap back into the water and return to their lives of freedom in the sea.  Water frequently does represent our deepest selves, especially as women, and being forced to live away from the water, or that place where we have the freedom to be ourselves, does indeed cause profound despair. 

These are the stories that cause my heart and soul to ache.  When I think about what other women have expressed to me as their deepest wounds, this loss of freedom is what I hear.  I think of my grandmother who told me a story about her mother.  Her mother would say “Oh, Gladys, you’ll do wonders” when my grandmother would tell her mother her hopes and dreams.  Her mother was not encouraging her, but was rather saying “Don’t dream too high for you are sure to be disappointed.  You cannot do all that you wish.”  Eighty years after she was told that, the bitterness was still in my grandmother’s voice at the retelling. 

Women can also be a great source of healing and freedom for other women, however. The other stories my grandmother told me were of her mother’s not remarrying for decades after my grandmother’s father died and my great-grandmother, instead, making her own way in life as a seamstress.  Also, my grandmother told of how her mother supported her wish to go to college by moving near the college so my grandmother could attend.  In these stories, she showed my grandmother a freedom that my grandmother, and my other female relatives, in turn, taught me. 

Perhaps it is the task of this generation of women, and men, to name the wound and begin healing it before it is too late, before the Wasteland caused by all our wounds spreads to all of Earth.  What would our world be like if women had never lost their freedom that so many ancient civilizations seem to have offered women?  What would a world be like in which women, and men, were truly free to be the best, most caring and compassionate, creative, happy and joyful beings they can be?  May our wounds be our guide to healing ourselves, each other, and the Earth.

                                                                              ~ Carolyn Lee Boyd

By Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd’s essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. Her writing explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. In fact, she is currently writing a book on what ancient and contemporary cultures have to tell us about living in community in the 21st century. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com, where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.


  1. you said better than I could have, I tried getting this across recently in a post but couldn’t quite put the feeling across. I have been working this particular issue out for a while now in my life and I am lucky to have found a wonderful teacher who is working through the wound of the male (in the toltec teachings).
    It is so true what you have written and we can only heal ourselves and live by example and give support to those male or female who are healing themselves and pulling themselves out of societys wound.
    Thanks! love and light, x

    Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! I went to your site and your blog and your artwork are just amazing – so beautiful! That’s really fascinating about you and your teacher working together!

  2. I’ve been thinking about freedom lately. Realized that I gave it away – sacrificed so much of my self and life – in order to be loved. That relinquished freedom is the source of many resultant wounds, as I was loved for being someone I am not. Now I reclaim my self/freedom after all these years, and my significant other is surprised. He thought I offered it voluntarily!! To my astonishment, he accepts the claims I now make. It’s not easy to change, but less of a struggle than anticipated! I love your writing!

    I’m so glad this is easier than you thought! Congratulations for having the courage to make this move! Thank you for your kind words!

  3. This is exquisitely written, carolyn! You have done an amazing job of capturing this wound of women in your post.

    Like Martha, I find myself recently and continuously facing taking my own freedom into my hands and wrenching it out of the hands of my parents. You might think that by 27, I would have accomplished this already, but, not so much. Not on every front anyway. I find myself now doing it on the front the most important to me – my love and how I choose to express it and to whom I choose to give it. Thank you for your words – I take courage and hope from them.

    On another note, I have missed you! “Real life” has kept me occupied, and it’s so lovely to come and see you. Random question: I know Mother Wintermoon shut down her ‘Romancing the Crone’ blog – did she create another do you know? If you have the link, I’d appreciate it immensely if you could pass it on! Love, hugs, and endless blessings to you, Lady 🙂

    Thank you so much! I have missed you, too! I’m so glad the post was of help. I’m afraid I don’t know of another site that Mother Wintermoon has created. I miss her, too!

  4. Wanted to check in – I found MWM’s blog! It’s a wordpress blog called Silver Moon Cove. I’m not sure if she ever writes her own things there, but it’s lovely. I’ve linked to it on my blogroll 🙂 Hugs to you, lady!

    Thank you so much! I’ll check it out! And hugs right back at ya!

  5. Hi … I’m visiting after being invited to the next synchroblogging event by A. Venifica. I like what you’ve written, and I think your title “Goddess in a Teapot” is really cool. I’ve done some writing about our wound, too, and would like to share it with you.


    I hope you don’t mind my posting a link, and I hope you enjoy it. It is specific to my experience.



    I don’t mind you posting the link at all! I read your post there and it is so full of insight. Thank you for sharing such deep experiences there. I very much enjoyed reading your post!

  6. Hi. Just to let you know I came across this post a while back and really enjoyed it. I went back and found the entire myth of the Handless Maiden, and was intending to write a post on it myself.

    Thanks again 😀

    and if I do get around to writing the post I’ll send a track back your way.

    Thank you! I would love to read what you write! Please do send a back track!

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