from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 1 December 2017

the lost feminine, & duty & responsibility

On Wednesday I led the penultimate session of my 2017 WELLKEEPERS group in Cornwall. This has been such a rich experience – and tough, too, in many ways. It has meant being willing to trawl through the mud of our lives over and over, not knowing where the light is, not knowing where we're going; only knowing that the journey, the pilgrimage of it, is essential for any kind of wholeness.

What we're attempting to do, in brief, is to look at the ways in which we have 'lost', culturally, the feminine principle and the implications of that. 

Jung has described this aspect of our inner world as the soul or psyche, present in each of us, biologically of either (any) gender. In times of philosophical materialism with its emphasis on science, logic and reason, it's easy to lose sight of ways of being that are different from this but utterly crucial as a counterbalance.

This is the way to wholeness: recovering the lost aspects of ourselves so our lives and our societies can be governed by the principle of wisdom that draws together two currently-polarised principles; ones that I'm describing here in Jungian terms as masculine and feminine, reason and intuition, logos and mythos, head and heart. (I am of course over-simplifying and it isn't anything like as black and white as gender-based ideas of 'men' and 'women'.)

'The feminine' is, in this way of thinking, the aspect of ourselves that values among many other attributes relatedness and community, and in patriarchal times this feminine principle, and by literal extension women, tend/s historically to be persecuted, used, oppressed, and so on.

For me, there is a very direct connection between the values of a culture and an era and the outward manifestation of these in how we live; specifically, I feel an enormous sense of urgency, as many of us do, in revisioning the way we live in relation to the other-than-human.

The Grail legends and their sources have underpinned my life and my thinking since the early 70s when I read Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic with mediaeval French as an undergraduate at Cambridge, and my understanding of their prescience and wisdom were deepened by my training in Transpersonal Psychology 10 years later, in which I focused once again on the psychology of the Grail corpus and its relevance to our lives. (Later still, though not much, I was commissioned to write a book on all this: Riding the Dragon – myth & the inner journey, Elements Books, 1994.)

In the course, we have been looking at recovering the feminine principle in our lives, exploring how a state of wholeness in an individual contributes, in no matter how small a way, to the healing of the collective, and very specifically for me how that in turn helps heal our desperate state of fragmentation between us and the rest of the natural world which we are destroying so swiftly, and what might change that. 

On this last session, I realised that we couldn't continue our discussions and writings without addressing the idea of empowerment.

By this I very much mean 'power to': power to choose the course of our lives, to be self-determining, to live by a set of personal values; power to believe that we can make the choices necessary to change what needs changing; power to contribute our sense of inner-directedness to a whole. What I don't mean is 'power over' which has been, arguably, the distortion of the masculine principle in our times (and yes of course there is a distortion of the feminine principle, too; both are dysfunctional).

Once opened up, this discussion could very easily have taken over the whole day, and proved to be a very fruitful session.

We looked specifically at the 'feminine' and 'masculine' principles in relation to 'power to', and explored what a truly-empowered woman looked like; and a truly-empowered man (I'm being gender-focused here for the sake of clarity in archetypal terms).

We are, this time, a closed group of women-only. So when we also started to look at the ways in which we, as women, no matter what our own sexual bias, gave our power away and are encouraged to by the deep-seated collective misogyny of our historical trajectory (and yes, there is misandry too, I'm not denying that, but it hasn't manifested in the same way as 'power over' another, or a society, or the rest of the natural world) we of course opened a Pandora's box.

And one way in which this has manifest in our times – this is where I'm going, but needed the context – is the sense of 'duty' as it plays out for women in the more negative of the Judaeo-Christian messages that still underpin our Western lives. Of course there's far more to say on this than I can even catch an eyelash of, and others have done it so much more justice.

All I want to say here, really, is that it might be truly helpful to differentiate between duty and responsibility.

This is a brief resumé, as I emailed it to one of the group who asked:

Firstly, Dr Jung said, famously, that increased rights bring increased responsibility. As adolescents, we don't recognise this: we want what we want and our desire drives us.

One of the hallmarks of a mature adult is an awareness, in whatever terms we couch it, that rights and responsibilities make a pair of choices that really are empowering.
'Duty: I see this as a set of expectations imposed from outside: parents, schools, religions, states’ expectations of how we should behave. I’m not saying we shouldn’t; but nonetheless some of those impositions are archaic and patriarchal. DUTY is full of SHOULDS, OUGHTS, GUILT and BLAME. We need to sift through those expectations carefully, thoughtfully, and with an eye to what we actually truly believe, deep down.

'Responsibility, on the other hand, is the response of a mature adult to having the rights of adulthood. Responsibility has an element of choice to it; it’s something that can arise from within us; something we can put our hearts into, as we can see clearly that it’s for the greater good.

'In relationship with others – any others – as I see it, we’re responsible TO them for our words and deeds in relation to them; but, given that we are not setting out to be aggressive and hurtful but are acting from an inner truth with kindness, then we are NOT responsible FOR their reactions to our words and deeds. 
'I think the caveat of our intention is key here.'

More on all this another time.

Meantime I'm musing on how best to deliver this course – The Wellkeepers – on into the future: whether as a face-to-face group or online, or both.

If you are interested, please let me know. You can contact me through my websites.

Also, the physical practical aspect of 'visiting and tending the wells' that brings the inner and outer work together is explored to some extent on my writing and walking week in West Cornwall: see more on The Land's Wild Magic here.


  1. A comment from Miri:

    'Roselle, thank you so much for this really important piece; I was nodding all the way through. It should be part of the national curriculum. It's interesting that I'm close to the end of Naomi Alderman's recent novel – The Power – winner of what used to be (memory fails again!) the Orange Prize. I wonder if you've read it? I can't wait to finish it because it's brutally, horrifically true, compelling and very important.
    It's science fiction, revenge tragedy and, I think, an example of our habit of not learning from horrific past events. It's about what happens when women become empowered, overturn the world, then abuse this power, prompting us to think that women are no better than men. But I'm yet to finish and I trust her (I enjoyed her novel Disobedience) to end with some sense of hope. Or maybe I’ve misread it all!'

    1. Thank you, Miri.

      One of the things we were discussing is how hard it is to identify and live FEMALE power, rather than emulate men-in-power. So eg Margaret Thatcher was, Theresa May is, in a position of power, but the way they have both presented it is the 'masculine' way: sharp, judgemental, ambitious, competitive, no-nonsense.

      We have few role models in contemporary Western society for empowered women in positions of power who aren't simply putting forward 'masculine' modes. What I'm interested in is how we can overturn this and manifest, support, recognise, passionate compassionate power-to that manifests from a woman who holds the balance of the masc-and-fem, who knows 'sovereignty' (as the old stories name it) in her inner and outer life as a WOMAN, rather than from the stance of the masculine-in-women's-clothes.

      Here's hoping.

      here's to many of them

  2. From Miri again:
    That's really well put, Roselle. I can think of a few women I've known personally who'd be ideal but not in the running because they're not interesting in ambition in that context, I suspect. So having that 'mass-and-fem balance' is going to be very rare. There are a few in the public eye who'd fit if they were prepared to modify their style.
    As you say, all we can do is hope. Fascinating subject. Maybe a novel? (Not mine though!)


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