“We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table.”
— D.H. Lawrence
Today is general election day in the UK, so having now cast my vote (Green), I am attempting to think about anything but the results, which now lie firmly outside the realm-of-things-I-can-do-something-about.
So I’d like to turn to a book that I read recently, If Women Rose Rooted, that resonated with me very much, written as it was by a fellow refugee from the corporate world who found great solace and meaning in nature as she pursued the Eco-Heroine’s Journey, as she calls it. (If you’re a guy, please don’t stop reading, as I believe this is actually the human journey back to wholeness, and has many similarities with Mac Macartney’s beautiful book, The Children’s Fire, which is also about the urgent need to mend our broken contract with the Earth.)
According to the blurb on her website, “Sharon Blackie leads women on a quest to find their necessary and unique place in the world, drawing inspiration from the wise and powerful females in her native [Celtic] mythology, and guidance from contemporary women who have re-rooted themselves in land and community and taken responsibility for shaping the future.”
I know and very much admire a couple of these contemporary women: Scilla Elworthy, who has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and last year wrote an article for my women’s organisation, The Sisters. And Polly Higgins, who passed away too soon earlier this year.
According to Blackie, women have had some bad PR over the last couple of millennia. The book of Genesis did us no favours:
“In this story, the first woman was the cause of all humanity’s sufferings: she brought death to the world, not life. She had the audacity to talk to a serpent. Wanting the knowledge and wisdom which had been denied her by a jealous father-god, she dared to eat the fruit of a tree. Even worse, she shared the fruit of knowledge and wisdom with her man. So that angry and implacable god cast her and her male companion out of paradise, and decreed that women should be subordinate to men for ever afterwards.”
Blackie says that over time this story made her:
“Angry, because it justifies a world in which men still have almost all the real power over the cultural narrative – the stories we tell ourselves about the world, about who and what we are, where we came from and where we’re going – as well as the way we behave as a result of it.”
(If this doesn’t ring true with you, I recommend you take a look at Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Carrie Criado-Perez. It’s an eye-opening – and occasionally eye-popping – insight into the many ways that our world is still designed for a “default human” who happens to be male.)
Blackie goes on:
“As I grew older still, I grew angry about other things, too: things that might seem on the surface to have nothing to do with the story of Eve, or the disempowerment of women – but which in fact are profoundly related. The same kinds of acts that are perpetrated against us, against our daughters and our mothers, are perpetrated against the planet: the Earth which gives us life; the Earth with which women have for so long been identified. Our patriarchal, warmongering, growth-and-domination-based culture has caused runaway climate change, the mass extinction of species, and the ongoing destruction of wild and natural landscapes in the unstoppable pursuit of progress.”
(Riane Eisler also points to domination-based culture as the root cause of much that ails the world, in The Chalice and the Blade. In fact, this has been a recurring theme in much of the reading I have done over the last couple of years: when we enact a narrative of domination, it crops up in every aspect of our culture – economic, geopolitical, racial, gender… and ecological.)
To return to If Women Rose Rooted:
“The world which men have made isn’t working. Something needs to change. To change the world, we women need first to change ourselves – and then we need to change the stories we tell about who we are. The stories we’ve been living by for the past few centuries – the stories of male superiority, of progress and growth and domination – don’t serve women and they certainly don’t serve the planet. Stories matter, you see. They’re not just entertainment – stories matter because humans are narrative creatures.
“If the foundation stories of our culture show women as weak and inferior, then however much we may rail against it, we will be treated as if we are weak and inferior. Our voices will have no traction. But if the mythology and history of our culture includes women who are wise, women who are powerful and strong, it opens up a space for women to live up to those stories… To be taken seriously, and to have our voices heard.”
This is what Blackie goes on to do, very much focusing on “we women need first to change ourselves – and then we need to change the stories we tell about who we are”. So guys, this isn’t having a go at you. We know we all need to work together to create a better future, but we women have some serious work to do to get our own house in order.
“For all my railing against the patriarchy, my own journey wasn’t one which made men the enemy; it was a journey in which men and women could become allies, and the stories which guided me arose from a culture in which both men and women were valued for the different things they brought to the world.”
This isn’t about “leaning in” (a la Cheryl Sandberg) to the masculine world, this is about women’s yin/inner journey, coming up with a better story about what it means to be born female at this time in history.
Part of the work is overcoming the dualistic worldview that has emerged out of Western philosophy over the last 2,000 years, which places us in opposition to ourselves and our environment: mind over matter, men over women, humans over nature. This harks back to the Eastern concepts of yin and yang that I wrote about the other week (in The Yin of Conservation): the Tao is non-dual, in that everything contains the seed of its opposite, and each aspect depends for its existence on what it is not. It is about unity and balance, not separation and domination.
Blackie draws heavily on Celtic mythology, reminding us that we have had powerful female role models within these shores.
“Celtic mythology depicts a society in which women – almost exclusively – held a form of moral and spiritual authority which not only rose directly out of the land itself, but which carried all the weight of the Otherworld… The Celtic divine female in her various incarnations was deeply grounded and rooted in place, indivisible from her distinctive, haunting landscapes.”
She draws a contrast between Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, which focused on the personal transformation of the individual, and the Heroine’s Journey, which she believes is “a journey to understanding how deeply enmeshed we are in the web of life on this planet” and “requires us to step into our own power and take back our ancient, native role as its guardians and protectors.”
I’ll finish with this quote, which is long, but worth reading in its entirety:
“When women seek success and ‘equality’ in a male-dominated world, then in order to achieve it we must act like men, play by their rules and, if they deign to allow us, join their societies and institutions. We are judged by masculine criteria for success – and inevitably we fall short, because we are not men. The best we can ever hope to be is not-quite-men, not quite good enough. We live, then, in a culture by the standards of which most women are doomed to fail. But it is easier by far just to go with the system, because this world values women who do: women who stick to the rules, women who do not rock the boat, women who do not push for more. Women who are like men, or women who become what men want them to be. But in becoming what we are not, in colluding with the patriarchy, we are cut off from the source of our own creativity, from the wild mystery and freedom which makes our hearts sing… And in following this path, we prop up and perpetuate the system which destroys us and the planet. In living like this, we embrace the Wasteland… We are caught not only in an industrial wasteland, but in a Wasteland of the heart and the spirit. The Wasteland is not just outside of us, a sickness in the system, in our culture: the Wasteland is in ourselves… The Heroine’s Journey for these times is a journey out of the Wasteland.”
For the record, Sharon Blackie is not anti-men. She has even married a couple of them (not at the same time, obviously). But I would say that she is anti-patriarchy, meaning she is frustrated by systems that advantage men at the expense of women. Her invitation to women is a positive one: to be proud of their gender, and find their voices, while being grounded in deep connection with nature.
I would suggest that the same invitation could equally be extended to men. We ALL need to respect the Earth that we rely on for more than our physical wellbeing – this is about our emotional and spiritual wellbeing too.