the skeleton woman

Currently I am slowly savoring the book Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. It is a quite long and philosophical book that discusses some stories and myths about the Wild Woman archetype. Beyond the typical rescued-by-a-prince fairytales, these tales teach us through oral history how to nourish our souls and feed the important wild woman spirit within us.

One such story is the Inuit tale of the skeleton woman, which is set to animation here, and I summarize the story below.

A woman is tossed into the sea by her cruel father and her flesh rots away leaving only her bones. Many years later a fisherman snares her, and expecting a huge fish, is shocked and frightened to uncover a skeleton. He flees to the safety of his cave but she is tangled in the line and appears to be chasing him. When he returns to his cave, the light hits her skeleton just so and she seems pitiful rather than scary. He pities her and untangles her from the lines and shows her care. He then falls asleep. During his sleep, a tear drips from his eye. She tastes the tear and her thirst is quenched. She takes out his heart and beats the drum of his heart, gaining energy with which she can sing and rebuild her flesh. She lies next to him and they awake twined together as lovers. It’s said that they lived on and were well-fed by all the creatures she befriended in the sea during her time there.

When we have been cast aside and disposed of, whether it be due to our own actions or due to a person or group not cherishing our value, we die inside. We wait to be reborn, and but a tiny tear can reawaken the hungry heart, even after those many years spent neglected deep within the sea. In order to move forward to the next chapter, sometimes things have to die. Jobs, relationships, people, even parts of ourselves. Everything we experience is part of a cycle of death and rebirth that, as women, we uniquely understand, as beings that can bring life, ourselves.

Estes suggests that as the fisherman sleeps his innocence returns and he is able to trust the woman, feeding her. That we need to re-enter a state of wary innocence each day, not casting it aside “with the coverlet” as we awake in the morning.

“The state of wise innocence is entered by shedding cynicism and protectionism and reentering the state of wonder one sees in most humans who are very young and many who are very old. It is a practice of looking through the eyes of a knowing and loving spirit, instead of through those of the whipped dog…the angry wounded human.”

I take many lessons from each of these stories. But for today I think about things dying in their time to be replaced and renewed as the time comes. And letting myself be warily innocent – not the naïve fool I once was, out of necessity and lack of experience. The skeleton woman who has been cast aside and sees rebirth ahead.

Care of the Soul

I recently finished reading what can be described as an instruction manual for the care of the soul. The author argues convincingly that we have focused for far too long on the physical and scientific aspects of caring for ourselves and have neglected our souls. From doctors and prescriptions to productivity gurus and psychologists, all of these experts have essentially short-changed us by focusing on problems and solutions and not spending time discussing the deeper meaning to those things that ail us and our cultures.

When we relate to our bodies as having soul, we attend to their beauty, their poetry and their expressiveness. Our very habit of treating the body as a machine, whose muscles are like pulleys and its organs engines, forces its poetry underground, so that we experience the body as an instrument and see its poetics only in illness.

Living our daily life is an art whose aim is not to avoid suffering but simply to live that life itself. Focusing on accomplishing as much as possible, making as much money as possible, minimizing our discomfort and achieving great heights of power do not bring that sense of satisfaction. We get that (we are told) by developing an understanding of ourselves, seeking spiritual succor through history, ritual, self acceptance and awareness.

We remain consistently captivated and distracted by those things that seem instantly comforting. But turning away and giving the soul it’s time and space may be what’s needed to stay seated within the base of our own power. When we distract ourselves, treat our soul’s cries with remedies rather than redemption, we lie to ourselves.

Thomas Moore continues,

One day I would like to make up my own DSM-111 with a list of “disorders” I have seen in my practice. For example, I would want to include the diagnosis “psychological modernism,” an uncritical acceptance of the values of the modern world. It includes blind faith in technology, inordinate attachment to material gadgets and conveniences, uncritical acceptance of the march of scientific progress, devotion to the electronic media, and a life-style dictated by advertising.

He shares in detail too long to explain here how to orchestrate our soul’s escape from the prison of postmodern life. I found the book inspiring with examples from myth and art on how to keep cultivating sacredness and depth.