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, 2 August 2013

digging up the bones

The Jungian Robert Johnson recounts a Paiute First Nation story called One/Two Man. In the story, the boy is required to dig up the bones of his father, remove the axe which has been buried beneath them, and then sleep on the bones.

We could say this story is about male initiation: the movement from boyhood to manhood. So this might suggest what a man needs to do to claim his own masculinity – by detaching his 'father complex' from his actual father he can see more clearly what is his own journey, rather than being driven by an unconscious relationship to the father and therefore masculinity. (He has to do the equivalent with his mother, too, by stealing the 'golden key' that is hidden under her pillow, the myth of Iron John tells us in the book of the same title by Robert Bly.)

I was very struck by Johnson's telling of that story, and fell to reflecting on what it would mean for a woman to 'dig up the bones'. The axe, of course, is a symbol of masculine energy, like the sword and the lance. The equivalent for a woman in relation to the mother, or Mother, would be the cauldron or the grail – those great archetypal symbols of feminine energy.

I've been having a hard time since the death of my mum, in November 2011. I miss her enormously; we had a very close warm relationship and there simply isn't a substitute. I've also found myself in a great deal of grief about aspects of her life that were less than fulfilling; opportunities she simply didn't have, a great loneliness in her. And then there was, the last few years, her dissolution into Alzheimer's.

Beneath this lies my enormous grief and anger at the wounded feminine in our patriarchal culture, whether that takes the shape of violation of the rights of other species and humans, the disassociation that allows war and destruction, the repression of the feeling nature and relatedness, or the abuse of women and children. As Johnson says: 'The feminine aspect of humankind continues to weep over the barrenness of modern life.'

I've been stuck in that, seeing the wounded and neglected feminine everywhere I look. Thinking about the Paiute story has enabled a huge albeit subtle shift in me to take place, and looking 'beneath', as the story counsels, has restored to and in me a renewed awareness of the enormity and power of the gift of the feminine, and its ability to survive and thrive anyway.

The cauldron and the grail, for me in relation to my mum, have enabled me to see what blessings the feminine in my mum truly brought and loosed into my own life: the feeling nature, a love of plants and animals, a deep attunement to music and art, an awareness of psychology (my mum was extraordinarily switched on to the importance of psychology, bringing us up in the late 50s and 60s on the latest thinking in child development), a focus on relatedness. What a gift, under the bones, for me to take forward as a lamp.


  1. A very moving account, Roselle, and one which prompts me to think again of the death of parents and our role as children/parents as the roles are inevitably reversed when we watch our parents – aged, sick, dying. If we're lucky, we learn how to nurture from both father and mother. We try to show them the tenderness that we give to our children and when parents die, the loss is all the greater: we lose our parents but in a strange way we lose a child as well.
    We, who are lucky to have come your way, have been able to share your mum's feminine blessings which you 'take forward as a lamp'. This connectedness is so invaluable. Thank you as ever, Miriam.

  2. Thank you. That's an ongoing issue for me. What I did find during mum's dementia, that what remained was her ability to love me. To show it- patted her chair for me to sit next to her, for example.
    What I'm finding it hard to get over, is her missing out, not being recognised as valued in our society. I'll try what you suggest.

  3. You two lovely women, thank you so much. And - what you two also have in common is having done the STORYMAKING course with me - and you don't live so far apart, either. We're not alone, ever, are we? With love, Rxx

  4. More interesting thoughts prompted by this vitally important subject: It reminds me to focus more on the really positive things about my relationship with my mum. We were very close and loving until, as an adult, I began 'to disappoint her'. For years after she died I allowed this to taint my memories of her – still do at times – but I know I can choose to see it in other ways. I choose to believe that she knew in the end, as I held her close hours before her death, that I loved her and that she knew it was me soothing and comforting her. I learned how to be tender and loving from her; she also – unwittingly – taught me that disappointment is born of unrealistic expectations. But most of all, she was a generous, loyal, beautiful person in so many ways. That's how I'll remember her; not as the one who I disappointed, because I know there was much that didn't disappoint her about me. She loved my writings, for instance; she began to understand me and our complicated relationship better through them.

    I'm intrigued, Marg, that we have Storymaking in common? I live near Pershore, Worcestershire.
    No, we're never alone, Roselle – not really, even when it feels like it. Love, Miriam.

  5. How lovely to hear that you've remembered and focused on these gifts, Miriam - such positive memories. And what a gentle and heartful ending you speak of. What a boon, too, that she began to understand you through your writings.

    Love to you. Rxx


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