Monday, December 19, 2016

The Muse of Hillary

A woman on fire is a wonderful thing if you are dreaming of a bright new future. Burning Woman is…a trail–blazer for those of us who dream beyond the strangulation of patriarchy.
—Lucy Pearce, Burning Woman

Wishing for Hillary

Approaching the winter solstice—longest night—I long for Hillary. I miss her on the radio. I miss her thoughtful, policy wonkish voice. I miss her on TV, her radiance, her ability to laugh at herself, that little shimmy she did during a debate, when her opponent blamed her yet again, it seemed, for all the ills of the world. I watched her intently during the debates. I saw the fire burning deep within her, a fire cultivated throughout her life, since she was a young feminist leader at Wellesley in the late ‘60s. I watched her take on the bully, refuse his bait, ignore his jabs, take a deep breath and deftly pull the rug out from under him. She became my hero—a warrior woman.

During the dark days of the endless election campaign, I held myself together by reading and writing political poetry. I needed to remind myself that others had gone through dark days. Some survived, some did not. I needed to make sense of what we are going through in the way that poems do, through wild associations, leaps of imagination, mythic stories, slant– wise truth. After we lost Hillary for president my daughter sent me a link to a Facebook post: A young mother, baby daughter on her back, had met Hillary in the woods the day after the election, and taken a selfie. I was moved by that photo. Hillary was still in the world, though not on stage, not on TV. She was a woman walking in the woods with her husband and her dogs. That’s when she became my muse. I dealt with my grief and fury by working compulsively on a poem about her, about women in patriarchy, about women’s sacred circles in the woods, about our archetypal connections to the trees, the earth and the seasons.

I read this poem recently, at a poetry reading on the Northside of the UC Berkeley campus, my Alma Mater, my old stomping grounds. [Many years ago] I used to live on the Northside, walk to campus, leaving my young baby with a sitter. I realized, reading my Hillary poem, that I had come full circle in my life, for two members of the [very] consciousness raising group that had blown open the top of my head in the late ‘60s and made me a feminist, were there, that evening. Hillary was their hero too. I give you the poem I read that night, in the hope that it will speak to you who miss Hillary, who mourn her, and our country.

Wishing in the Woods   With Hillary

I wish you’d surprise me in the woods    Hillary as you did
that young mother    baby daughter on her back    the day after we lost you
for president    She took a selfie    My daughter sent me the link
Who will we be without you    in your moon bright pantsuit?
Who will stand up to the strongman    when Michelle and Barack
walk out of the White house    and speak to us only in dreams?

My wish is to see you among trees      their leaves gone gold
and crimson    or dry and dead on the earth    Your little dog
will sniff me    And you    who’ve been pilloried
your goodness debunked    as though working
for women and children    lacks gravitas    As though gravitas
is a loaded scrotum    whose natural enemy    is a woman with powers

Mother trudged from father’s study   to kitchen    to bathroom
and back when he whistled   I kid you not   He whistled   She typed
his manuscripts    cooked    bathed children   darned socks   Hillary
She was the air we breathed    the water we swam in
the earth we walked on    our hearth   our heart beat
Her powers invisible    to the kingdom of men    But O

she was fierce   about voting for you in ‘08
Now she’s lost   her way in the woods
lost my name   your fame   lost the whole world
of visible powers   lost to the outcry
the pandemonium    the kids walking out
of their schools shouting   “Not Our President”

The trees raise their boughs    and prophesy
When the moon comes closer to earth
than it’s been since the year you were born
the haters will crawl out from under their rocks
the “white only” nation come out of the woodwork
You won’t know whose country you’re in

Maybe our time is over   Hillary   All that e-mail evil
because you’re attached to your old familiar   that Blackberry
you refuse to waste time    learning new smartphones    I’m with you
But my dear   the world is passing us by   That young mother
in the woods    after we lost you for president    posted you
and her baby daughter on Facebook    It went viral   My daughter sent me the link

Hillary   my wish is to surround you   with sisters
of the secret grove   We’ll sit in a circle   kiss the earth
with our holiest lips   We’ll lift up our hands and pray
for your healing our healing the healing   of the dis–
respected    disaffected   molested   undocumented   Jim Crowed
And let’s not forget   the trees   the bees   the buffalo

We’ll breathe into our bellies    Our backbones grow
into strong tree trunks   our roots descend   While I’m wishing
let’s throw in a chorus of frogs   and the smell
of the earth after rain   For it’s downgoing time    in America
underworld time   time to hide out in a cave
How I wish for your company in the dark    Hillary

We’ll make a fire   talk story   remember our mothers’
invisible powers    Maybe we’ll sink into dreamtime   Maybe Michelle
will visit   She’ll wear a wonderful dress    remind us of grace   of joy
She’ll speak from her heart   Though the weather’s becoming
a banshee goddess    Though the “white only” nation
is trolling the web    Though the emperor elect

is tweeting our doom   My wish is   Remember
The way of women    is our way     The moon swells
the moon goes dark   pulling the tides   in and out
The way of the trees    is our way   So raise up
your branches   sisters   for we are one   gathering
Soon sap   will rise   apple trees flower

We’ll weave us a canopy   all over this land
It will be uprising time   once again
               in America

My Lady Tree

In my just published book, The Rabbi, theGoddess, and Jung: Getting the Word from Within, the symbolic meaning of the tree is revealed as I contemplate a painful childhood experience. Here is a section from the first chapter of the book:

I am haunted by a memory. When I was five or six I once drew a female figure—her arms reached upward; her feet were the roots of a tree; she was numinous to me. I called her my “Lady Tree.” Proudly, I showed her to my father. He was a college professor, a musicologist. He could make music shine. He could make a Renaissance painting radiant with his words, even to the eyes of a young child. But he couldn’t see the beauty of my “Lady Tree.”

“That’s silly,” he said. “Is it a bull?” The hurt of that moment is still palpable. I imagine we can all remember moments like that, when our young spirits were crushed. Looking back I can see that my “Lady Tree” was a living symbol for me, an archetype that would shape my life and my fate. I had no idea then that the “Lady Tree” was both the goddess and her priestess, that she was sacred to the old religion in which the feminine is worshiped, that she was a divinity who would seek her way into flesh through me and many others of my time. I had no idea there was an ancient “Celtic Tree Alphabet” which Robert Graves argued was a secret code by which poets handed down their worship of the forbidden White Goddess. I had no idea that in Africa, a young man, Malidoma Somé—who was to become a well known shaman—would see the Goddess in the Tree, while undergoing his initiatory rites. He would recognize Her body glowing with green, as an expression of Her “immeasurable love.” I had no idea that the goddess was associated with trees in cultures all over the world, no idea that in the Middle Ages the tree was addressed with the honorific “Lady,” or that Hildegard of Bingen had married two words—“green” and “truth” to coin the word “veriditas,” to describe the moment God heals you with a plant. I had no idea that the Tree of Life was the sacred glyph of Jewish mysticism, or that I would spend much of my life reclaiming the living symbol of my “Lady Tree”—she would come to me in dreams, in life, in poems—she was the primordial form of my shape-shifting muse, “The Sister from Below.”

I had no idea that just a few years later I would find a tree to sit in—an oak—which would become my friend, my familiar, and in its branches I would begin to write poems. I had no idea I was becoming an oak-seer, haunted by the spiritual world of the Druids…

How could I have known then, that I was not only carrying the wound of a little girl whose father mocked her “Lady Tree,” I was carrying the wound of generations of women held in a patriarchal worldview that cut them off from their primordial roots in the earth, their arms that reached for the sky.

The Motherline, Redux

I was recently approached by two writers, Melia Keeton–Digby, whose book is called TheHeroines Club: A Mother–Daughter Empowerment Circle and Vanessa Olorenshaw, whose book is Liberating Motherhood:Birthing the Purple Stockings Movement. They both had been influenced by my book, The Motherline: Every Woman’s Journey to Find Her Female Roots, first published a generation ago. They hoped I would give them a blurb. They were being published by Womancraft Publishing, which is committed “to sharing powerful new women’s voices.”

I had no idea anyone was still reading my book. I hadn’t known of the press, or that there were women, younger than my children, writing exciting feminist books that reach down to the ancient roots of the feminine. The founder of Womancraft Publishing, Lucy Pearce, I learned, has written a powerful book called Burning Woman, in whose acknowledgements I was flattered to find my own name. I gather from the titles of her books that she shares the passions that moved me to write The Motherline, about which my daughters used to tease: “Mommy writes about the moon and the womb.”

I want to share this good news with those of you who mourn Hillary, who, like these writers, is a passionate feminist committed to improving the lives of women and children. There will be a new day after the longest night. There is a future for feminist writing that honors the archetypal feminine. The Goddess has not been forgotten.

The Heroines Club: A Mother–Daughter Empowerment Circle by Melia Keeton–Digby. 

Keeton–Digby understands the magic of the sacred circle, of story, of the talking stick. She knows that girls need heroines, need a relationship with their mothers “based on love and mutuality.” She has created a curriculum for a circle that meets once a month for a year. She has chosen twelve diverse heroines, each of whom stands for psychological theme. Among her heroines—my heroines too—are Frida Kahlo, “I Express My Feelings in Healthy Ways,” Ann Frank, “I Am Resilient in the Face of Adversity,” Malala Yousafzai, “I Am Worthy,” and Maya Angelou, “I Speak My Truth.”

Keeton–Digby writes clear and easily understandable instructions for the circles, in an intimate personal tone, based on the archetypal circle of women and the mother–daughter bond—held sacred in the Eleusinian Mystery religion and in matriarchal cultures. I wish there had been such circles when I was a girl, when my daughters were girls.

Here is the blurb I wrote for The Heroines Club:
Melia Keeton–Digby has created a wise ritual, rooted in ancient practices and invoking the issues of our times. The Heroines Club brings relational sensitivity and a fierce fighting spirit to the support of mother–daughter bonding, the creation of community, the calling forth of the Motherline and the honoring of a pantheon of heroines who inspire women’s empowerment as well as their psychological and spiritual development. A blessing for women and girls. I hope the Heroines Club will travel the world.

Liberating Motherhood: Birthing the Purple Stockings Movement by Vanessa Olorenshaw.

Olorenshaw is a sharp–tongued critic of the patriarchy and of capitalism. She’s burning mad about the denial of women’s power, disrespect for the work of mothering and the deification of the bottom line. She writes passionately of the profound experiences of embodied motherhood:
From the power of our bodies to create life and give birth, to the nurturing of our children we, as mothers, touch something outside the ‘machine’ of modern economic existence.
She dares to criticize feminism’s devaluation of motherhood:
So the work of pregnancy, birth and motherhood are overlooked in our culture (by many feminists and patriarchs alike) but so too are the joys, beauty, power, majesty and spirit.

She writes in an intimate sister to sister tone, and has a wicked sense of humor:
One biological feature that defines us as mammals is our mammary glands. They sustained our species for tens of thousands of years. Yet, the way Western culture reacts to our breasts, you’d think that they had been invented by the porn industry in 1970.
Here’s my blurb:
“The time for a mother movement has arrived,” proclaims Vanessa Olorenshaw, in her smart, funny, provocative and highly political manifesto, Liberating Motherhood. She confronts the fear and loathing of the female body, which undermines a woman’s pleasure in her glorious mammalian body. She argues that a woman’s choice should include staying home with her children without being impoverished. What a radical—in the sense of having deep roots—idea!
Liberating Motherhood is a breath of fresh air in a culture deadened by the soulless grip of the money machine. Olorenshaw’s call to mothers to honor the mysteries of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and childrearing, brings joy to the heart of this old feminist. Olorenshaw is a “Purplestocking”—her phrase—a “maternal feminist” intellectual who honors women’s life–giving power and remembers when the Great Mother ruled heaven and earth. So, all you mothers, grandmothers and children of mothers, read Liberating Motherhood, pull on your purple stockings and join the revolution: #MothersOfTheWorldUnite!

Burning Woman by Lucy H. Pearce

Though I didn’t write a blurb for this profound book, I want to praise it. Burning Woman, Pearce writes, is a lost archetype of the feminine. We know her in her negatives form, she is the pilloried, despised, feared witch, bitch, heretic, whore of the “burning times,” burned “simply for speaking [her] own truth.” We hear our latest witch hunt in the chant “Lock her up!” at the rallies of our president elect. But who is she in her positive form? Listen to Pearce:
Burning Woman is she who is inflamed by her own direct connection to the Feminine life force. She who dares to follow her own vision, who speaks up and tells her own stories. She naturally sails counter to what she has been taught…The process of unlearning is long, as she learns to uncover her own authentic source to life’s power, and claims her own authority to navigate her life according to her inner flame…
She has often been depicted in the forms of the dark goddesses: Kali, Medusa, Oshun and Hecate. When she is given her way, she gives birth to the world.
Is this a way of understanding what happened to Hillary and to us? Why her loss feels so unbearable? As though we were all expecting the birth of a divine girl child, and suffered a miscarriage?

And yet, all is not lost. I remember feeling an unbearable loss when The Motherline went out of print. Years later, my wonderful publisher Fisher King Press, reissued it, with a beautiful cover painting by my dear friend Sara Spaulding–Phillips, a cover that put the Lady Tree and the Motherline together in one image. It was read by a new generation of feminists with roots in the archetypal.

Burning Woman is grounded in a Jungian sensibility. Pearce writes that she has been researching lost archetypes of the feminine for many years. Pearce sees Burning Woman as “the archetypal Feminine we all have within us from birth, one we are programmed to be, and our role is to unwrap ourselves…” I recognize that process in my own development, and in that of the women with whom I work. One of the forms of the Self, for a woman, is Burning Woman. Pearce writes:
The process of embodying Feminine Power has a distinct pattern and structure that our bodies instinctively know. It is not the pyramid of masculine power, but the endless flowing of the spiral. It will lead you in and out of the darkness and towards the fire.
I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote the poem I gave you, dear reader, “Wishing in the Woods With Hillary.” But if you look at it again, you will see the pattern Pearce describes. Hillary is our Burning Woman in both senses. She represents Feminine power lighting our way in the woods, and in the world.