Shapes of Women: Fear & Flow

Mermaid Parade by Steve Edreff

Over the past three months we’ve journeyed through the Shapes of Women.

In Girl, we followed a 6-yr old’s experience as she discovered— with some horror— that she is part of the private and public world of womanhood, with all its miracle and demoralization.

In Medusa, we met the mythical woman who turns people to stone and, in Lot’s Wife, the biblical woman whose tenacity turned her to stone.

Through a Pablo Neruda fable, we met a Mermaid brutalized at the hands of drunken men. In Diplomat, we listened to a mother try to convince herself that a brutal world can still be beautiful.

Mothers & Daughters gave us a daughter who would break the life pattern of her mother and her mother’s mother in order to let her soul rest, breathe and consider that “A life is just a proposition you ask by living it, Could a life be lived like this, too?”

If you take the above question to heart, you will find life is fairly simple. Beware: there are people who would be happy to complicate life for you, people overladen with ideologies whose burden they would like to pass on. They would compel you to live as they do and propagate their culture because civilization, as they define it, rests on you. Others would tempt you to live without rules because, according to their rhetoric, that is the only freedom. Both of these are traps!

If civilization rests on you, it’s not because you are a woman but because you are an individual, and the individual is a portal through which shapes can arise or dissolve. In any case, civilization should not rest but evolve, for it is a collection of shapes, objects and patterns of behavior that are useful and celebrated in their time. If a civilization does not change, it means that life has been made static, that its people are the walking dead. Like Lot’s wife, they have turned to stone. Like Medusa, those who would plant us back in the past in order to “save civilization” would turn us all to stone.

This does not validate those who would have all civilization dissolved. The people in this camp profess their love of freedom, from all rules, but what they may want is the freedom to make their own rules, which they will, in all likelihood, given the history of political revolution, impose on you, once the competing rulers have been dethroned.

When the two most trumpeted choices are petrification and annihilation, you live in an atmosphere of insecurity. Petrification is no way to live and annihilation is no salvation. Between these two poles we move. Between these two poles, life takes shape.

As world-shaping individuals, no matter what shape we take, two drives lie underneath: the drive to survive and the drive to discover. The last three Shapes of Women posts introduced us to three archetypes (enduring shapes): Stone Witch, Eve and Medicine Woman.

Stone Witch is the part of us that capitalizes on the drive to survive and would turn us into machines (perfect daughter, perfect mother, perfect worker, perfect anything) in order to “save civilization,” or perhaps just to feel secure in an uncertain world. Alternatively, with the help of her male counterpart cast in the mold of Hitler, Stone Witch would facilitate superficial revolutions that cost human life and entrench authoritarianism. Whichever methods the Stone Witch employs, the governing principle is security at the expense of the fluidity that is life in motion.

Eve is the part of us connected to the earth, the fountain of all shapes. Eve would die to discover. She brings life yet accepts the dissolution of shapes as part of creation. Like Neruda’s mermaid, who arises out of the fluidity of a river, Eve comes out of innocence. Both mermaid and Eve meet a world of insensitive human beings who, due to intoxication or any other of Stone Witch’s petrifying survival mechanisms, cannot receive purity without mocking or marring it. They disfigure her and drive her away. The mermaid returns to the river. Eve, our creative innocence, squashed by insensitivity and ignorance, may do the same, if we do not receive her properly.

Medicine Woman is our instinctual and experiential wisdom, free of mental fixation and emotional sediment. She urges us to dissolve the Stone Witch, calling on the whimsy of fairy tales and the wisdom of inner voices, and bring Eve to life. Medicine Woman does not coddle. To the grown woman she instructs, “Get the poison out of your body!” To the little girl in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, sitting slowly petrifying in the waiting room of womanhood, she would say, “You are now a woman and the time has come for you to learn how to love like a woman.”

It can take a whole life to learn how to love like a woman. It can take a whole while to learn how to move in the world of shapes without disconnecting from the fluidity of life.

What are the shapes a woman takes then?

They are infinite, for all shapes are temporary, life in transition.

What are the ways to live?

The Traveller told us she travels to make new connections in her brain, to stay ahead of the mind’s tendency to herd a person’s thoughts into a tight, sterile loop that’s disconnected from the greater life experience.

The Writer urged us to write, not to take the edge off living but to live fully, to write for ourselves, write from our bodies, from beyond calcified culture, from below overreaching rules, where life is free-flowing, un-frigidified, un-petrified, un-manifesting and manifesting both.

Could a life be lived like this? That is the question your life answers.




Integration Project: Shapes of Women, Summer 2018

Works Cited:

  1. Leaving My Father’s House by Marion Woodman (Jungian psychology)
    Shapes: Medicine Woman, Stone Witch & Eve
  2. Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks by Pablo Neruda (poem)Shape: Mermaid
  3. In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop (poem)Shape: Girl
  4. Lot’s Wife by Anne Simpson (poem)Shape: Pillar of Salt
  5. Good Bones by Maggie Smith (poem) — Shape: Diplomat
  6. The Laugh of the Medusa by Hélène Cixous (journal article) — Shape: Writer
  7. What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman (memoir)  — Shape: Traveller
  8. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (novel) — Shape: Medusa
  9. Motherhood by Sheila Heti (novel) — Shapes: Mothers & Daughters

With art by Bonsalles & Steve Edreff.

It is deeply gratifying to have integrated and shared these works of art and literature with you.

Live Fully and Consciously,




Shapes of Women: Medicine Woman


That night, I have a dream of a spider who tells me that I am to find the berries of my feminine soul and that when I have lost everything I will be free. I hate spiders, but know I must have the courage to speak to this energy living in me.

“What do you want from me, Spider?” I ask in meditation.


“But why? You terrify me.”

“I have to be aggressive because you keep trying to kill me. If you ignore me, you give me no energy and without your energy, I am unlived life.”

“But who are you?”

“You, a part of you that you can’t see yet.”

“What part?”

“Conscious, unconditional, feminine love. I won’t kill you but you must listen to me. Enter the love for your own inner family. Love the Eve-child in you who lives without rules. Throw away all the books that tell you how to live. Love from your heart, forget conventions, open to the moment and express freely the energy of love. In the word of the heart, there is no holding. Your wounded heart, your rejected feminine soul, will be healed if you express this energy.

“But what will people think if I live this way?”

Start to live your own life. You were meant to love. Love is a way of seeing that pierces through illusion and sees the violence of life and accepts it. Love sees death staring in its eyes with the knowingness of pain, decay, and separation. Love accepts the darkness and the light equally.”

“Spider, are you Medicine Woman?”

“Yes, I come in many different forms.”

“How can I trust you, Medicine Woman, when you don’t exist?”

“In your heart you know that I exist. You can now sense my energy around you. You have been conditioned to believe that the inner world is deceptive and dangerous. This perceived danger you project onto the outer world; the outer world is merely a screen for your inner state of being. People threaten you because your inner characters threaten you. The wilderness is full of dangerous animals because your inner wilderness if full of dangerous animals.

Your mother was taught by her mother, and her mother was taught by her mother, that the feminine body contained the evil of mankind. You are terrified of your body, and yet she touches you all the time; she is you. Your mother, severed from her own life-force, her own living flesh, could not teach you of your feminine instincts. Your ancestral mothers taught you that human flesh was ignorant matter. They slept in their flesh, forgetting the divine wisdom of nature.

You have never contacted another human being, for you have been too afraid that someone will steal your body from you. Your body was stolen from you at birth; you do not know this. By repressing the consciousness in your body, your ancestors have denied your life. You beat your body through exercise, starve her, numb her feelings, so that you can prostitute her to get what you need to survive in your society. You objectively watch the life-blood trickle out of you and feel nothing. You are bleeding to death by this wounding. Many women in your culture bleed from psychological wounds that they no longer feel.


I will make you feel the wound; once felt, the wound will force you to take the necessary action to stop the pain. You have seen life through the eyes of the stone Witch; your culture gave you these eyes.

Inside you there’s a man whom your Eve-self calls forth. Someday they will meet each other. However, first you must find the Witch who holds both Eve and this man in bondage. Then, you must kill the Witch.

“How do I find the Witch?”

“She lives in the contracted muscles of your body and the collective values of your culture. Once you see her, you can dissolve her. When you have experienced the full terror of her energy, you will know how to deal with her. Throw hot water over her. It works in fairy tales.”

“Damn you, Medicine woman. How do I throw hot water over an illusion in my body’s muscles? Sometimes you are full of it.”

“No, you are the one who is full of it. Learn to shit, woman. Get the poison out of your body.”

I am aware of Medicine Woman watching my pain. The grief and confusion on my face and in my body are obvious, yet she stands motionless and watches me. She doesn’t try to ease the pain, nor does she try to take it away. Like the old crone that she is, she encourages me to stay with the feelings in my body.

Sink into your body,” whispers Medicine Woman. “love the fear and the terror. Accept them; they are not your enemies. You are now a woman and the time has come for you to learn how to love like a woman. This love accepts human frailty. It is the love that sees the oneness of all forms of life. It is the love that heals, for it dissolves fear into forgiveness. Learn to love the fear, the rage, and the anger, and then you will experience love of the divine. Let go. Everything in life is born to die. The old must make way for the new.”

“Are you telling me to let go of my perceptions of reality?”

“Yes. What you previously experienced as evil, you will experience as life unmanifesting; likewise, what you previously experienced as good, you will experience as life manifesting. Life manifesting and life unmanifesting are balanced polarities.

You have not respected your intuitive voice. You have been taught that it was untrustworthy, for it knows without knowing why. However, intuitive knowing is the wisdom of your inner soul-self. Her mysteries are understood in silence. When you allow the mysteries to live consciously in you, you will know that your human soul and your human body are the expressions of divine spirit.

Your intuitive voice has the seeds of your feminine soul. These seeds you must bury in the swamp of your body. Then your instinctual sexual energy living in your body will connect you to your spiritual life-force. Empowered by the mysteries of feminine wisdom, your flesh will become radiantly alive. Conscious of itself as spirit, your body will be transformed into bodysoul, where body and spirit are lived as one reality.”

“How will my perception change? My understanding of feminine mysteries is my menstrual curse. Like every other woman I know, I hate it. I wish I had a man’s body. I find nothing to celebrate about being in this woman’s body.”

“When you were a young girl, there was no wise old woman to teach you about the deep secrets sleeping in your womb. The mysteries were not revealed to you until you started to menstruate. But your society perceives menstruation as a curse, for it does not know the powers of the blood. If you had the courage to listen to your Eve-self who celebrated at the first drop of blood, then your so-called curse could have been an initiation into womanhood. Womanhood is the celebration of being.

In school, you wee taught to think with your head. Even your sex education was of the head and not of the heart. Your heart and your womb have been ripped out of you. Your sexual center is vacant. In your body, you know something terrible has happened to you; your menstrual cycle cries out to you in pain each month. Your feminine soul has been raped. In your heart and in your womb a great sin has occurred. You believe that your body is responsible for this raping; you feel guilty for allowing it to happen. But you are not the guilty party; you are the victim because you allowed yourself to be the victim. The intuitive voice that could have connected you to your mysteries was condemned as nonsense. If you are to fulfill your destiny, you must listen to the voices of intuition and allow them to initiate you into your womanhood. Your sexuality is not evil; it is your creative center of being. Your menstrual cycle is the door to feminine wisdom. Make friends with your blood. Listen to Eve.”

“But Medicine Woman, if I start to talk like you, people will think that I am crazy. It isn’t normal to talk to inner voices. At the university I studied that schizophrenics hear voices and they believe that the voices are real. My society will drug me.”

“You have been given a task to do. If you chose not to do it, the creative energy of Eve will turn against you and, like cancer, eat you. You have a choice.”


Teachings of the Medicine Woman from ‘Leaving My Father’s House’ by Marion Woodman




Shapes of Women: Witch

“Our culture, consumed with appearances— cosmetics, fashions, cars, gadgets— is a culture unconsciously held captive by the Witch, by the energy of power over our own bodies, over other’s bodies, over the planet Earth. Just as Witch, unconscious in me, manipulates and rapes my bodysoul, Witch, unconscious in our culture, collectively rapes our sacred planet Earth. When we are caught in the complex of Witch, there is never enough: enough meaning in life; enough academic papers published; enough spiritual food; enough money. The complex demands to have more, just one more and that one more is never enough. Behind the aggression demanded by the Witch, which destroys the joy of simply being alive, lives a rage, a sense of impotent anger at the inability to change the hectic, driven, and unsatisfying life. When Witch dwells inside, a person is a paralyzed victim of life, driven compulsively to succeed. Our culture is dominated by “successful” victims of Witch.”


“Witch holds me captive in my body; she is the ruling power complex (yet always so loving and caring!) controlling my every move. Witch is the essence of a woman’s unconscious identification with the instinctual power of the female body. Witch’s motto is, “Make them want you, but never let them have you.” Through unconscious manipulation of the sexual energy of my own body, I unconsciously dress her up and act in whatever manner necessary to get what I believe I need in order to be successful. I can starve my body if thin means power in beauty; I can get degrees if intelligence means power in education. I can use my various physical appearances to seduce men mentally to give me what I need— a job, prestige, attention. With Witch in control I can be a man’s “darling little princess,” or his “bright little girl,” or his “whore,” or his “disembodied spiritual anima.” In other words, I am an anima woman, reflecting whatever a man wants… And “I,” as conscious ego, am not there. No one is home and “i,” as a complexed ego, never knew it!”



“My Witch is married to a Hitler who serves the collective values of the culture. Together, they kill my inner life of Eve and prostitute my bodysoul to get in life whatever is needed for recognition and personal power.”

The Silver Dress from ‘Leaving My Father’s House’ by Marion Woodman
Edited for clarity, length & order

Shapes of Women: Eve

“Unconsciously, you still hold the belief that your body,
Eve’s body, is the cause of the Fall of mankind into hell.”


“I am Eve. I am beautiful, for my body is created by divine energy. I know how to say ‘Yes’ to life. When negative energy comes toward me, I know how to say ‘No.’ Disrespect for my flesh is a cancer to me. Women have cut off my arms so that when they prostitute my energy, I cannot tell them that they are destroying themselves.

When you give me back my arms, my voice becomes yours. I will teach your body the sacred dance of life. Your body will become soft, mutable, and round; you will move like the wind in curves and spirals.

It is women’s responsibility to become conscious of my sacred energy. When women are connected to me, their bodies become sacred temples. They do not abuse their bodies sexually, nor do they starve or exercise their bodies for beauty and power. Instead they care for their bodies in love of divine matter, and they express their divinity without shame and without guilt.

I am the joy of planet Earth that simultaneously expresses death and life. But I am dying, my voice is getting weaker. You fight for security against death, instead of celebrating the birth of each day. You want to use my energy to satisfy your greed, but since you are severed you no longer know what your real needs are. Connect to life and stop killing me with your power.

I am crying out for life; my trees want air they can breathe; my soil wants to be ploughed in love. When you connect to your divine natural self, you will connect to life. I am also the meaning in a man’s life, but it is up to women to teach men that nature is divine. Women radiating my energy will teach men reverence for matter.

If I am not given expression soon, I will die. My heart is breaking; the collective heart is breaking. When I die, life dies, for I am the life of this planet.”

Redeeming Eve’s Body from ‘Leaving My Father’s House’ by Marion Woodman
Edited for clarity & length




Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks by Pablo Neruda

All those men were there inside
When she came in, completely naked
They had been drinking and began to spit
But having come from the river, she understood nothing
She was a mermaid and was lost
Their insults flowed down her perfect, smooth flesh
Their filth enveloped her golden breasts
But not knowing tears, she did not weep tears
Not knowing clothes, she didn’t put on clothes
They tattooed her with cigarettes and burnt corks
They laughed till they fell to the floor of the bar
But not knowing words, she didn’t say a word
Her eyes were the color of distant love
Her arms were like two topaz twins
Her lips were cut by the coral light
And then, suddenly, she just walked out the door
She entered the river and was clean again
She shone like a white stone lying in the rain
And without looking backwards, she swam once again
Out towards nothingness, out towards death







‘In the Waiting Room’ by Elizabeth Bishop

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist’s appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist’s waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
–“Long Pig,” the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
–Aunt Consuelo’s voice–
not very loud or long.
I wasn’t at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn’t. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I–we–were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you’ll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
–I couldn’t look any higher–
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities–
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts–
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How–I didn’t know any
word for it–how “unlikely”. . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn’t?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.








Pillar of Salt


Lot’s Wife by Anne Simpson

This is the woman you don’t know,
— unnamed, undone —
though you’ve heard how she turned
for a last look and that
was that. No time
for those twelve chapters
to creative awakening, with accompanying
exercises. Lot kept his head
down. Why is it that a woman can’t
give up what’s already gone? We all know
what curiosity plus cat equals. This time

God snapped his fingers,
reduced the city to ash,
along with two of Lot’s daughters, sons-in-law,
twins in the polks-dot stroller,
rattles on the rug,
a whatnot full of souvenirs:
the straw donkey from Spain, clay vase
from Mexico with the crack in it. Dishes
still in the sink, phone off the hook
and the voice of the angel
echoing loud in everyone’s ear.
Told you so.

After that
who was left
to pick up the pieces? Soon Lot was sleeping
with his younger daughters,
but it was all so dreamlike. Across the plain,
the city kept burning. People made little cries
of distress, flames leapt
from one building
to another. Smoke filled the air.