The Wild Is Where You Find It

At the end of my day today, I was blessed by the sight of a fox, magnificent in her wildness and independence, who loped across my office parking lot.  She looked at me as if she had come out into civilization just for me, and then continued on into the nearby woods.  For most women I know, these moments when we experience our sisterhood with the Earth are essential expressions of our spiritual selves.  We are renewed, inspired, and reborn in forests, oceans, and mountains.

But, not all women are able to experience wild places first hand.  Some of us live in cities and suburbs and do not have the time or money to go on retreats or vacations in nature. Perhaps our responsibilities to children or elder parents keep us at home.  Maybe we or a spouse are in the military and we cannot choose where we will live. Perhaps we must dwell in a place whose landscape and neighbors make us depressed and afraid.  Even though I live close to natural places, the schedule of my obligations to others means that I am fortunate if I spend an hour or two a week in a truly wild place.

I was lucky – I found my perfect home when I was in my 20s, and it was not in nature.  I moved to New York City because of my fantasies of a literary life and instead found a connection to our planet, a place where I felt perfectly at home.  I felt embraced by the skyscrapers.  I loved the hard, straight lines of the sidewalks.  Surrounded by six million people all living their lives as they wished, I was never lonely and always perfectly free to be myself and as individual and arty as I chose.

But it wasn’t only the human culture of New York City that I loved, but also the spirit of the place.  If forests are earthy, and oceans watery, and the plains and deserts full of air, New York City was, to me, fire.  I became convinced that somehow nature and humanity had co-created the spirit of this place so that it was more than wildness and more than humanness, something uniquely both—powerful, beautiful, and full of life.  It seeped up from the concrete and out of the rock walls of the skyscrapers, oozed from the brick tenement buildings, vibrated with the steps of the inhabitants.  I left 20 years ago and only really went back for a couple of visits recently and I felt it again; it was like meeting an old friend. 

I learned from those years in NYC how to connect to nature, to the land, even when you are not in wildness; to not just exist till you can return to a natural place for rejuvenation, but to bask in the spirit of where you are, whether by choice or necessity.  I began by expanding my idea of “nature” to include not just places that were wild, but everywhere on Earth, to see the “wildness” wherever I was.  Part of doing this is seeing humans as “wild,” too, as part of the landscape and what they create as “wild” if it truly represents some core element of themselves.  So, a painting or poem or building or park is an element of nature if it is an expression of that which is “wild” within us.

Of course, this isn’t always easy if where you live is not particularly attractive and doesn’t blend in with the landscape.  I lived in a fifth floor walk-up which, 20 years ago, was basic housing at its most basic. The only two windows looked out on the brick wall of the building next door. The only time I was in the building and experienced nature was when I would go on the roof and look up at the sky.  I had no choice but to live there because it was all I could afford.  So, I expressed the spirit of the place through paint—I painted a bright red fire in the fireplace, matching the crimson rug on the floor, and the walls were a bright “Van Gogh” green and yellow.  My wall decorations and bookshelf statues were colorful and full of life. My one living/bedroom was my temple to the spirit of my Beautiful City.

I also connected to the wildness of where I lived by immersing myself in other’s expressions of how they perceived its spirit, whether through art or literature or history or stories from the original people who had lived there.  Over time, I built up my own “mythology” about the place, with some places becoming “sacred” to me and creating stories out of my own experiences that illustrated the magic that I perceived there.  By the time I left, many buildings and parks had special significance for me and had their own special power.

But, unfortunately, we can’t always be where we feel connected and can easily visualize and celebrate the spirit of a place whether is has wildness or not.  I like living in New England.  I have, in many ways, done the same process here—finding my own “sacred places,” creating a home that expresses how I perceive the spirit of the place, and trying to feel intuitively what the spirit of the place is like.  I have to admit, though, that I am not as at home in New England.  The spirit of the place is not one that I feel an essential connection with.  The people I love are here, but it is a struggle sometimes to feel as if I am “home” here.

Still, over the years, perhaps New England is not where I would prefer to be, but maybe it is where I need to be.  Living in a place where you don’t feel the embrace of nature’s wildness, where you don’t feel simpatico, can also be essential for our growth.  I have grown in ways that I may never have had I always stayed in New York City.  I have become able to be more solemn, more cynical and less instantly enthusiastic, more likely to struggle to let my intellect be quiet so my spirit can create. I have expanded and added many more notes to my life’s symphony.

At the same time, I have shifted my focus from being an “artist” to being a “healer.”  Even though I may do the same activities, the focus or purpose of them is to heal myself, or others, or the earth, rather than simple self-expression.  Part of this is growing older and experiencing more, but I also think that some of it is absorbing the more somber history of New England and experiencing the harshness of nature’s face here.

If you live in a place where you feel less connected, sometimes you have to make the first move, be the first to reach out a hand to your new home in acknowledgement of the fact that it is nourishing you, even with only gravity, and despite the fact that it may not feel connected to you, either.  By coincidence, I moved to my new home at a time when there was an intense battle going on to preserve the purity of a nearby body of water.  I joined in the fray and, by showing my dedication to my new home, I began to feel aligned and as if I somehow came to better understand the landscape by committing myself to its preservation. While the land I was fighting for was “wild,” I think that the same would be true of a place that was urban also.  So often the way to spiritual connection is action.

Perhaps a world where humans only lived in places in perfect harmony with and surrounded by nature would be ideal.  Maybe that will be what the world will be like in the future.  But, for billions of people, that is not the reality of their lives.  They choose to or must live in urban or suburban environments that may, or may not, have natural beauty. To broaden our understand of “the wild” brings millions of people into the human-wilderness circle who might otherwise feel left out, thus making us feel part of nature, too, and deepening our commitment to it.  At the same time, it affirms the web of connection between all beings and all places on earth.  Can any place not be “natural” in some sense if it is still on the Earth?  By finding the “wildness” in a slab of concrete sidewalk, we commit ourselves to making every place on Earth its own kind of nurturing, free, beautiful, vibrant landscape and honoring the connection of all beings to the earth, wherever they may live.

The Perfect Worlds of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman worked hard to envision a better world for you to live in.  Gilman lived and wrote most actively in the years surrounding the turn of the 20th century, penning economic treatises and fiction that explored her ideas that a more peaceful, just, happy world depended on the equality, especially economically, of women.  Her general ideas have been validated by studies that show that everyone is healthier and better educated in societies in which women work and have control over their pay because women tend to spend their money on their family’s well being.

She seemed to disappear till 1979 when her novel, Herland, was reprinted.  Much of her work is now back in print, but too few women know about her still.  She wrote three novels about perfect societies, or utopias, but Herland is, to me, the most compelling.  In Herland, three men come upon an all-woman society.  They assume that, because Herland is “civilized,” it must include men. Instead they find that the women are doing quite well by themselves, thank you very much, even reproducing girl-babies without benefit of men at all.

In Herland, the focus is on community, but a caring community in which respect for each person abounds but all is shared, and raising children is honored as a profession for those who are specially trained.  Herland views the whole world through eyes that do not see gender and we come to see all that still makes no sense in our time, a hundred years later.  Originally, Herland has only women, but as the women and men visitors find out, it is possible for a Herland to continue even with men, as long as everyone respects everyone else without limiting them due to gender.

I read Herland many years ago and loved it because I, like many women, I think, had created my own “women-only” utopia.  I chose a job where I worked almost exclusively with women; I had only women friends; I spent my free time volunteering for women’s organizations or gathering women poets for readings in my living room.  I was “of the world” in that I had a mainstream job, but I loved the freedom of being able to be myself because I was with only women.  Now that I can no longer live that way, I miss it and constantly try to recreate that sense of lightness that comes from being out from under society’s narrow ideas about what I should or should not be and do simply because I am a woman.

If I could, I would give copies of Herland to everyone in the world for it is needed now more than ever, whether the answer is a society like Herland’s or not.  Our world is changing quickly and decisions made now will determine what our future will be.  It seems to me that in the century since Herland was published, we have become afraid to “dream big,” to give voice to our belief that we can live in peace and joy, that everyone can be respected for who they are, that no one needs to go to bed at night hungry, cold, or alone, that all we have to do is determine that this is what we will do and it can be done.

To those who find that task daunting, I would give a copy of her short story, The Yellow Wallpaper.  She is possibly better known for The Yellow Wallpaper, but it is a very different kind of story than Herland.  It talks about the descent into insanity of a woman who is kept away from people and forbidden to work as a cure for her depression, a practice common in Gilman’s time. It is a kind of anti-utopian story, except that it really happened and still happens to some degree whenever a woman is denied the chance to use her talents to benefit herself and others.  If we do not choose to look upward, as Herland does, we risk descending into The Yellow Wallpaper.

I hope that, if you haven’t, you will read Herland and think about it.  Would an all-woman society, or at least one where there were no gender differences, be the best way to live?  Would it really be peaceful with everyone content and fulfilled?  What can we take from Herland to apply to our own efforts to make a better future?  How can we make our own lives more like the free and happy women in Herland? How can we make a world that may not be perfect, but is better than what we now imagine is possible?

Charlotte Perkins Gilman is one of those rare authors whose work seems to become even more important a century after she lived.  Unlike the women of her time, we must not only work towards a better future, but towards having any future at all.  We need strong, clear voices to lead us, we need our own voices, and Charlotte’s Herland is like a calling from the past “Dream, dream, and don’t stop till you have made the future you dream of.” 

Sources:

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins.  Herland. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins.  The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader. Ann J. Lane, ed.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

Listening to Our Lives, Making Our Myths

I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to live in a time when the stories of goddesses and heroines were new, when the women portrayed in them did the daily tasks, had the relationships, and faced the same issues as real life women.  “Myths,” “fairy tales” and the like are, of course, meant to be metaphorical tales that speak to our deepest souls rather than true stories.  I do indeed find ancient stories to be full of meaning and many do, indeed, make me sit up and say “Yes!  Now I understand!  What an insight!” 

But I wonder if the ones we have are really all that we need.  I have tried, over the years, to write “new myths” that relate to challenges that I and other women I know face that were never imagined by mythmakers of old and some of these can be found in the Writing section of this blog.  But the ones I wrote never seemed to have the illuminating connection to my inner self that I was hoping for from a “new myth.”

Then, a week or so ago, I read a real story by a young woman about an event that had happened to her years ago.  She was a stranger living in a country torn by civil war and chaotic violence.  One day, she was surrounded by a gang of young men, members of one of the country’s factions, who threatened to murder her.  A group of women, native to the country, joined together and risked their own lives to rescue her. This story’s power rang in my bones and I knew that it was both a recounting from the writer’s memory and a vessel holding great meaning for women of many times and places.

 I then began to remember other stories that had come to my mind over and over through the years.  The story of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, whom Demeter mourns desolately, is one that poignantly speaks of the bonds between mothers and daughters.  But so does the real story of my great-grandmother who, when left to raise my grandmother alone, spent decades bent over her needle making quilts and dresses to earn the money to send my grandmother to college.  In the tale of Amaterasu, this Japanese Shinto goddess retreated into a cave only to be teased out by being dazzled by her own beauty as reflected back to her in a mirror. How like the true story of an elderly woman I know of who had been abused her whole life only to discover in her 80s that she was indeed sacred and worthy of gentle care, a revelation that caused her to “come out of her cave” and encourage other women in her community to stand up for themselves against their own abusers.

 I love those inspirational stories, but, to me, the retelling of the young woman’s rescue leads us even more strongly to a more just and compassionate future.  The world is completely different than it was when the stories of Demeter, Persephone, and Amaterasu came into being.  Violence is worldwide and capable of devastating all life on earth.  We have the technical capability of creating an earth that is a paradise of beauty, abundance and health compared to what those ancient people knew. But, our technology is also creating ecological suicide while we kill one another ever more effectively. We are, as a species, divided ever more deeply by nationality, religion, political ideology, race, gender, economic status, and geography.  It is to this world that the young woman’s story speaks.

 It is the story of real women.  The women who saved the girl are not goddesses or superhuman.  They are actual women who made a real choice for compassion and courage, then the next day went on with their daily lives.  Like them, our decisions when faced with the opportunity to help overcome or walk away from violence and injustice have real consequences for ourselves and others.

 This story tells of looking beyond the 21st century divisions between people to treat others as humans in need of love and protection.  The young men had dehumanized the girl based on her nationality and race.  The women saw her as an individual worth saving, though they did not know her and would never see her again.  They didn’t think in terms of “my child” and “someone else’s child,” but as “our child.”  It is only this attitude that can stop the conflicts going on right now, as you read this post, all over the globe.

This is a story not of one goddess or heroine on her own, but of women coming together for a common purpose.  It is about how community can form in an instant when it’s needed and how groups of women can accomplish what one woman cannot.  This is how we must face these catastrophic situations if we are to change them.

This is a story that has no resolution yet.  The conflict is still taking lives in the country where this story happened.  While this one young woman was rescued, somewhere in the world are many young women in similar situations right now who are suffering violation and death. This is not a story we can walk away from, satisfied that it all worked out in the end, because it has not.  It gets us moving and does not let us stop.  I hope that I live to see the day when this story has an end because the brutality that gave rise to it is unthinkable anywhere in the world, but I doubt I will.

 I plan on holding onto this story tightly and not letting go.  It isn’t likely that I will ever be in a situation to save someone’s life like these women.  Still, how many times a day can I choose to step in and help or walk away?  How often do I have the opportunity to risk my well being, in one way or another, by standing up for someone who cannot, at that moment, stand up for herself?  How many times will looking beyond the divisions that divide us show me the real truth of a situation and encourage me to act?  Like a profound “myth,” this story has significance far beyond its original narrative and I have just begun to mine its wisdom.

Stories like these show that all that we really need to build our ever-growing and ever-changing treasure chest of myths is within ourselves, playing out every day as we live our own lives.  Each of us is, in her own way, her own anthology of stories that tell all we need to know if we will only honor them as the oracles that they are.  What stories are you holding in your heart that can be the “myths” that will guide, teach, and inspire you and all women?

The Contemplative Art of Making Sweet Tea

As a northerner, I had never really heard of “sweet tea,” an essential drink made especially in the American south, till recently. I asked my friend Foxy for her recipe, which you will find below.  Foxy is not only a champion sweet tea maker, but she is also an excellent and dedicated graphic artist.  When I read the recipe, I realized that her sweet tea making was also an art.  In fact, it reminded me of the Japanese “Tea Ceremony.”  While I’m not an expert in the Tea Ceremony—people study for years to be able to conduct a Tea Ceremony correctly—my understanding from participating in one and reading about them is that they are very formal ceremonies in which tea is prepared and served by a host to guests in a way that emphasizes grace and beauty and promotes contemplation and awareness of the joys of the world around us. 

In Foxy’s recipe, I see the same elements of taking time to do something right in a way that slows us down and makes us appreciate what the world offers to us through our senses.  Here is Foxy’s recipe:

Ingredients and Equipment

4 C ceramic (microwaveable) teapot
4 C. cold water
5 single or 2 family tea bags (I don’t like wimpy tea)
1/8 C. (or less) Honey or about ½ C. sugar. (After you have made your first batch, you will know how to adjust the sweetness to your taste.)
Small pinch baking soda

Directions

*Microwave water for 5 min. or until it is really hot. Add the sweetener. (Make sure the honey or sugar goes in while the water is HOT. Never try to sweeten cold tea. It doesn’t work.)
*Remove from Microwave and add the tea bags.
*Add the small pinch of baking soda (makes a richer color and tones down the acidic taste and is also easier on the tummy).
*Put lid on pot and let steep for at least a couple of hours or more.

When you are ready to pour it up, squeeze the tea out of the tea bags and pour it in a half gallon container. Swish it around to mix in the honey/sugar, then fill the container the rest of the way with cold water.

Then go out to the garden and pick a sprig of mint to top it off.

This also makes a delicious hot tea in the winter.  Make it as per the recipe and then nuke it in the microwave.

When I think about these two ways of making and enjoying tea, I am struck by how something as unique as making tea brings out a common spiritual sense in two very different cultures.   It is moments like this that make me realize that humans really are much more alike than we are different. 

But, at the same time, sweet tea-making has generally been something that women have done and it seems to me that it also speaks to some of the wonderful and unique things about us.  Like the tea ceremony, sharing sweet tea—whether at a tea party, on a porch chatting with neighbors, or as a break in a girls-day-out shopping trip—is a social activity, but one that tends to be informal, chatty, and intimate.  The experiences you share over a glass of sweet tea are the stuff of daily life with all its tragedies and triumphs.

Sweet tea is a summer drink that celebrates nature and especially the heat of the sun that ultimately brews the tea, whether directly or through the fire on our stoves or the electricity in our microwaves.  We drink it outdoors and, when we add a sprig of mint or other herbs from our gardens, we bring some of our own connection to nature to it.

Sweet tea is, well, sweet, much sweeter than matcha tea that is used in the Tea Ceremony which generally has no sweetener in it at all.  When we drink sweet tea, we are honoring the sweetness of life itself and all its joys that we experience through our senses. 

Finally, sweet tea-making is a very creative enterprise.  I would guess that most women who make sweet tea eventually come up with their own favorite twists on the basic recipe.  It is how we can add a little of our artist selves into our daily lives.  I know that in the month or so that I have been making Foxy’s tea, I have begun to add about two single tea bags full of herbs to each batch.  So far I like rose petals and lemongrass the best.

Summer has just begun.  Whether you make sweet tea as a contemplative exercise or as a delightful drink, make it and enjoy! And, if you are a sweet tea maker yourself, I would love for you to leave a comment and let us know how you make it!

 

 

Helen Nearing: Liver of The Good Life

Helen Nearing’s influence on my life has been profound and I am honored to write this post to celebrate her and her husband, Scott.  I grew up in the 1960s and 70s in a liberal university town where their works were widely read, so I have always just assumed that everyone knew of them and had a copy of “The Good Life” on their shelves.  But a couple of days ago, I realized that this view was most likely wrong and that there are probably millions of women who have never heard of Helen.  So, if this is the case with you, I would love to introduce you to one of my favorite women of all time, Helen Nearing.

Helen Nearing and her husband Scott moved to a farm in Vermont in 1932 and began a grand experiment in what would now be called “voluntary simplicity.”  They grew their own food, built their own house, made their own clothes, and only made enough money to meet their most basic cash needs.  (Until this time, Helen had grown up in luxury and done very little physical labor. Think of the faith, love, and courage it took for her to make the decision to do this!) They divided the day into four-hour blocks:  one was for “bread work,” meaning what they needed to do to meet essential needs to sustain life, one was for community service, and one was for leisure and recreation. 

The key was to reduce their needs to a minimum.  No trips to the mall, no fancy clothes, no new cars, nothing that did not serve a useful purpose.  In exchange, they got back four or more hours a day and the satisfaction of spending their time outside, doing honorable, healthy work, and being role models for people like me who were looking at non-traditional ways of living their lives. 

To me, voluntary simplicity is less about doing things a certain way than in creating a new relationship between yourself, your work, and money.  It is about not taking the media’s word for it that you really need 95% of what they are selling. It is the realization that if you do not needs gobs of cash, you do not have to give away your precious time and energy at a job that is extremely stressful and time-consuming instead of one that is fulfilling, requires fewer hours and serves others, but may be lower-paying.  You can choose how you spend the days of your life and what you give your precious talent and energy to.

In 1953, they wrote their book “Living the Good Life” about their experiment and, over the years, until their deaths in the 1980s and 1990s, they were visited by literally thousands of people who came to their home to learn what they had to teach.  They wrote more books and articles, lectured, and always lived what they preached.  Scott was actually the more public face of the two, but he was more analytical and pragmatic, while Helen came from a more mystical, artistic, contemplative point of view and so it was she that I felt connected to, though I never met her.

I do not, of course, follow their lead exactly (as the Coldwater Creek catalog people can attest), but it is because of them that I bought an old house with few modern conveniences and have worked for 20 years with my husband to renovate it, grow many of my own herbs, shop mostly in consignment stores, and take jobs that don’t necessarily pay tremendously well, but pay enough for me to live and help support my family. And, I should say that I am not advocating that women stop fighting to be paid as much as men or that they live at poverty level.  Of course women need to have economic equality – the issue is how much of our lives we want to spend making money, not that we should make less than men – and too many women completely underestimate how much they will really need in retirement.  If you have children or parents to support or care for or have special needs yourself, your financial need will be substantially higher than people like the Nearings, who had no responsibilities other than to themselves and were in good health till their deaths.

What I have recently come to realize is how integral this view of how to make a living can be to women’s spiritual lives.  Many women feel that their connection to the Earth is an essential aspect of their spirituality.  The importance of not over-consuming and making your living in a way that does not exploit the Earth is obvious.  “Voluntary simplicity” is one important way to reduce the amount of energy we use, garbage we generate, and pollution we cause.  There is no better way to honor the Earth than to step away from destroying Her.

Voluntary simplicity is also key to a healthy global web of sisterhood between women.  When food, clothing and materials for shelter are exported rather than used for the good of the women in other countries who make them and factories that make unnecessary goods pollute the environment, especially in developing nations, what we have here in the US really does reduce the quality of life for women around the world.  Here is where “fair trade” can come in.  If you buy goods that are made by women who are fairly paid and who work in safe, ecologically-sound conditions, you can have your imports and help women overseas support themselves in a way that benefits them, too.

Finally, voluntary simplicity is a grand way to express to yourself and others that you are sacred.  Your time, energy and talent is worth more than a cashmere shawl or yet another knick-knack or fancy dinner out.  If you spend the time you gain on “soul pursuits” like music, art, poetry, walks in the woods, reading, or whatever brings you closer to your Creator and your inner self, how rich will you indeed be.  You have not only stated your sacredness, but taken back power over your life by being the one to determine how you spend your time and energy.

In the last few years of her life, Helen wrote a book titled “Loving and Leaving the Good Life” about her marriage to Scott and her thoughts about what their lives had meant.  She chose to end the book with words that were not about economics or freedom or power, but about love.  And this, to me, is the real spiritual message of voluntary simplicity: love yourself and your soul enough not to waste them, love others enough to spend time with them rather than in constant work, love the Earth enough to conserve it; love all beings enough to participate with them in this world in a responsible way. 

But she says it much better than I do: “A network of love crisscrosses the globe…  There are so many threads of love in the world, so much love going on, for and from so many people.  To have partaken of and to have given love is the greatest of life’s rewards.”

To learn more about the Nearings and their work and lives, go to The Good Life Center, the organization that sells their books and continues to spread their message.

                                                                              ~ Carolyn Lee Boyd

Celebrate Your Woman’s Soul with Juno

In ancient Roman times, a woman’s soul was called her “juno,” after the goddess of the same name.  A man’s soul was his “genius.”  These weren’t simply two words for the same thing, but rather a “genius” had a masculine aspect and “juno” a feminine one.  Well, we all know what happened.  The word “juno” disappeared, leaving women without their souls.  While the word “soul” is supposedly not for one gender or the other, the subservient place of women in many religions does seem to argue that perhaps the idea of our souls still lingers in obscurity.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.  I mean, we all know that we really DO have souls, and many of us do feel as if our souls do have a uniquely feminine aspect.  But, when we lost the word for them, we also left behind perhaps outdated notions of what our souls are like and what we should be doing with them.  And as long as no one was thinking about our junos, no negative connotations could be attached to them in the media or society in general, as they have to other feminine aspects of ourselves.

Which leaves us with an opportunity.  We can imagine our “junos” in any way we wish, in any form that expresses our truest and deepest feelings about this essential aspect of ourselves.  We can bring them into our lives however is most meaningful to us. We can give our daughters their “junos” from the youngest age as they watch us celebrate ours. 

Let’s get started envisioning and celebrating our “junos” this coming month, June, the month sacred to the goddess Juno.  Here are some things I plan to do:

Spend time thinking of an image or montage of images to use when I think of my juno.  Of course, my juno already exists and I am quite familiar with her, having lived in close quarters for half a century.  But sometimes, when we let our minds roam freely and pick up on what images wander past, we can find out things about parts of us that we did not consciously know.  We might also want to periodically re-imagine our junos.  I would think that my Summer Solstice season juno will be different from that I imagine on the Winter Solstice.  For some reason, a butterfly has come into my mind this morning, so, for today, my juno looks like a butterfly.  I’ll think about what that means.

Give my juno an opportunity to connect with other junos by going for a nature walk today.  That way she can make friends with the junos of birds, animals, fish, and a wide variety of native wildflowers and trees.  She will become part of them and they will become part of her, and thus me.

Express my juno’s passion for a better world by doing at least one activist thing (hopefully more).  I do believe that most of our commitment to social activism comes from our junos.  Our junos “hear the cries of the world” and need to do something.  When we don’t answer their call to action, our junos become frustrated, sad, and depressed.

Celebrate the emerging junos of other women by going to a graduation party and a baby shower.  I don’t have any June weddings to go to this month, but my friends and their daughters are making many new beginnings.  Their junos are delighted and my juno wants to be part of the merriment.

Give my juno the mission of helping me get to know her better.  As a 21st century woman who has just been introduced to the idea of my soul as a specifically feminine aspect, I haven’t had much time to contemplate all that this means.  But the implications are vast – women are uniquely sacred (just as men are also uniquely sacred); women must be represented in all endeavors because we are the holders of the junos without which the world is unbalanced; when I explore my juno, I also come to understand my own spirituality and creativity in a way I could not have before, since both these come, I believe, from our junos.

If you have ideas about your junos I would love to hear them.

                                                                              ~ Carolyn Lee Boyd

Source:
Monaghan, Patrician.  The New Book of Goddesses and Heroines.  St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2000.

Do You Taboo?: Dressing Up Your Spiritual Power

I love to think that women throughout time have left the women of our time clues about how to feel that our spirits are powerful, passed down to us little treasures learned over millennia just waiting to be excavated. Sometimes we look to the stories and artifacts about how powerful women have lived and still live; sometimes we can also look to what women have been forbidden to do. Our culture is peppered with little taboos, mostly that I remember from childhood, but some that are still common. As I consider these taboos, especially those concerned with dress, in relation to what I know about women spiritual leaders, I can see how each can be seen as a way to make women less powerful and how breaking these little taboos can be an avenue to feeling, looking, and being our strong, creative, confident selves.

Certain colors were never or rarely worn when I was younger, in particular, bright red, except as an accent, and black and white except for funerals, weddings, graduations, and other formal occasions. The association of red with “immoral” women was well-established for years and years. Remember the scene from “Gone with the Wind” where Scarlett finally gives up all pretense of respectability by going to a party wearing a red dress? Red, white and black are, of course, colors associated with goddesses all over the world. Fortunately and perhaps not coincidentally, red is now considered to be a “power color” and one that all job applicants should wear somewhere and black and white also have a power of their own as they are more commonly worn.

Clothing taboos have always divided women by class, making it possible to know exactly what strata of society a woman was from by looking at her clothing. Rich women from more aristocratic classes not only had better clothing, but also clothing for a wide variety of formal and informal events. Of course, being wealthy has not meant that women were more personally powerful, but by having women dress differently, it certainly helped keep them from seeing how they as a group lacked power and doing something about it. Dressing outside your assigned class has been taboo (“who does she think she is?”), as is mixing pieces of clothing from different class styles. How many times have you see any woman wear khakis and a silk jacket with pearls to a business meeting? When I was a teen, the owner of a consignment once gave me the fashion advice to wear rhinestone pins with my plain flannel workshirts. At the time I thought that was trendy, but maybe it is a statement about women’s unity as well.

Let’s talk hair. Traditionally, long, unbound hair has been considered to be powerful in itself. Medusa comes to mind. Young women were allowed to have such hair, but as soon as women began to come into their power as they grew up, taboos required binding it. Even now older women are supposed to cut off their long hair altogether and certainly never leave it long and loose. Gray hair, which could be considered to be a sign of wisdom, must be colored and covered up. Makes you want to keep your natural gray and let it grow long, just to see what happens, doesn’t it?

What about jewelry? We can see from ancient tombs of powerful women that those folks liked jewelry and had a lot of it. They seemed to wear tons of the stuff all at the same time. No one who studies the qualities of various metals and gemstones will be surprised that jewelry, especially beadwork, is supposed to carry a kind of spiritual power in itself. Too bad that real “ladies” are supposed to wear a piece or two only, unless they are royalty or really rich, that should match. And why is it that we aren’t supposed to wear two different kinds of metals or gemstones at the same time? Could it be that if we wear as much jewelry as we like we might just feel a power we are not meant to?

Ignoring society’s little taboos is certainly a statement of personal freedom, but I also wonder if it may also be a bit more. When something is repressed for centuries, it almost seems to gather energy over the centuries, just waiting for women to rediscover it. Breaking a clothing taboo feels fresh and new, a step into the future, simply because I have rarely dressed that way before. When I wear red, I not only enjoy the color itself, but it seems to hold the vibrant energy that I also sense in mixing up styles, wild hair, far too much jewelry and other broken taboos.

Maybe clothing taboos aren’t the only ones that are worth breaking. If we broaden our sights and think of other things that are considered not quite right for no real reason, perhaps we will find other avenues to power. One post that many readers seemed to feel a connection to is about being a hermit. Our society praises and encourages extroverts and discourages those who are more thoughtful and solitary. It isn’t hard to see why – if you think too much you may begin to think for yourself. Being by yourself, meditating and contemplating yourself and life is essential to the kind of self-knowledge that leads to inner illumination.

People who enjoy the night rather than daytime, who prowl around in the dark, are also considered not quite reputable. Now, let’s see, what is out at night that isn’t in the daytime? Oh, that’s right, the moon, that potent symbol of women’s spiritual power in the west. If we go and bathe in her mysterious, enlightening light, what mischief might we get into?

Can it really be this simple? Can we really uncover reservoirs of our own power just by doing those things we aren’t supposed to? Probably not. But they can help us recognize the hundreds of ways that women’s power is taken away, bit by bit. As we can see by how quickly red has been embraced as a power color, releasing the force of a taboo can be very freeing. Give it a try. Next I’ll be wearing white shoes after Labor Day…

                                                                              ~ Carolyn Lee Boyd

The Temple of the Subway Goddess: A Beltane Gift for You

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My novel, The Temple of the Subway Goddess, was to be published next year.  The novel is about the quest to find our way to the essence that connects us to our deepest selves and others in our families, communities, and throughout time and space.  This journey is explored through the coming together of a modern urban woman and an ancient refugee priestess from a long-disappeared goddess temple.  As they meld their two worlds, they remake themselves and their loved ones and vision a new way of being.

However, life doesn’t always go according to plan and the publisher has ceased to exist.  Since my real goal for publishing it was simply to create something that people would enjoy and maybe even find a bit inspiring, I am now offering it as a free download.  You may also purchase it as a real life paper and ink book.  To either download or purchase it,  click Temple of the Subway Goddess. 

                                                                              ~ Carolyn Lee Boyd

Living Like a Priestess Everyday

This past week I traveled back to New York City, where I had lived in my 20s, for the first time since I left.  While I was there, I visited the Museum of Natural History, where I had first experienced a worldview that included women as sacred.  Back in the 80s, Diane Wolkstein had brought her performance of the Inanna story from ancient Sumer there.  I didn’t know it then, but that may be the closest I will ever come to experiencing an ancient religious rite involving a female deity.  Thousands of years ago, the celebrations and ceremonies frequently included re-enactments of stories about goddesses like Inanna. 

When I unpacked after I returned home, I took my jewelry out of a little silk bag and put back into it a mirror that had been sent to me by my friend Marione.  I had written a story in which one of the characters shows another her reflection in a mirror as part of a ritual and Marione sent me that gift in response.  After I wrote the story, I found out that this is indeed one of those spiritual acts that have been done by priestesses for millennia all over world. Once again, a modern woman had enriched my life by acting as a priestess.

What if we were all to take it upon ourselves as a sacred duty to act as priestesses for each other?  We live in a world in which women do not see themselves as worthy and are treated as soulless objects by others, leaving us subject to violence, abuse, and exploitation with horrendous results for women and all of society. To me, as I study the functions that priestesses held in ancient times and witness what seems to be lacking in our world, a priestess is anyone who reflects back to others her own sacredness and who heals.  When we forget that we are sacred and others are also, we open the door to violence, abuse, and exploitation.  When we heal, we make ourselves and other whole and bring ourselves and others back into the web of all being.

Everyone has her own way of being a priestess, but here are the ways that I have thought of to bring this essential function to our everyday lives:

Make every job that of being a priestess.  One common thread among the women I know who I would consider “priestessly” is that they view their jobs – whether as a checker at Walmart, a teacher, a nurse, an administrator, or a stay-at-home mom – as a means to show others that they are sacred.  They do whatever they do in a way that responds to each person they encounter as unique, important, and worthy.  With their family and friends, they encourage dreams, listen to ideas and opinions, mend broken self-respect.  They provide opportunities for others to find the sacred in themselves by letting them take chances, by allowing the other person to take care of the priestess as well as the other way around, by listening with genuine interest as people talk about their lives and burdens.

Our lives are the stuff of the sacred.  What happens to us everyday is just as valuable, more really, for wisdom and life lessons, as any ancient story.  Be a priestess by telling your stories, expressing your thoughts, giving others the benefit of what you have been through.  Your life, both the good and the bad, is a gift to you from the universe, and priestesses share what they have been given. 

Create beauty and celebrate the joy in life.  Music, dance, poetry, magnificent architecture and paintings have always been part of our spiritual experience whether in temples or churches or in rituals.  Something about beauty makes us into spiritual beings. So often our creative work is put on the back burner for what we may think of as more important things, like making a salary or fulfilling social obligations.  As a priestess, I will try to make creative endeavors a priority, maybe even blogging more often…

Finally, priestesses of old would often dress, speak, and behave like the goddesses who they celebrated.  To be a priestess, we must reflect whatever reflects the best within us, whatever that may be.  For many women, the most important aspect of this is expressing compassion for all those who come across their path.  They “hear the cries of the world,” as do so many goddesses and other female divine beings.  Maybe for me it is storytelling or making visions of the future.  Maybe today it will be one thing and tomorrow another.

Being a priestess everyday most likely won’t change much about what you do, but maybe it will change the way you perceive yourself and your role in it.  Maybe it will help you get through a tedious day at work, or re-evaluate what you see as important, or remind you in a new way that you are sacred and worthy of being treated as well as the highest spiritual leader. The Delphic oracle, the priestesses who dreamed healing visions at the Hypogeum, the women who over thousands of years have led their communities as spiritual leaders, they are all women just like we are, and, no matter who we are, we can be like them, too, everyday.  

                                                                              ~ Carolyn Lee Boyd

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
 

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