An Annotated & Illustrated Collection of Worldwide
Links to Mythologies,
Fairy Tales & Folklore, Sacred Arts & Sacred Traditions
by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
COMMON THEMES, EAST & WEST:
(or "Why Women Can't Sleep" -- an Introductory Essay)
Note: click here for Annotated Links and Excerpts
"Why Women Can't Sleep"
3 December 2008
My webpages have always had a strong feminist focus but I have never before felt the desire to create a specific page devoted to gender issues. Tonight, however, a non-profit institute of which I am a member, Black Earth Institute ("a progressive think-tank dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society"), forwarded an email from one of our Fellows. Under the title, "Why women can't sleep!" he sent the above marvelous image. His brief comment was this:Everyone,I was stunned by the animated image because, gut-level, it felt so familiar. I responded to the list with the following:
[X] received this from a friend and I'm passing along for your amusement,[From X's friend]:
This explains EVERYTHING! Have you ever wondered how a woman's brain works? Well....it's finally explained here in one, easy-to-understand illustration: Every one of those little blue balls is a thought about something that needs to be done, a decision or a problem that needs to be solved. A man has only 2 balls and they take up all his thoughts.Tue, 2 Dec 2008 19:28:44 ESTA few hours later, another Black Earth Institute Fellow, Judith Roche (winner of a 2007 American Book Award for her Wisdom of the Body -- see my 2008 Solstice Greetings & Lore for her wise and splendid "Credo"), responded with the following:
O my god. When I turn in c. 1-3am and wake up barely 4 hours later, I recognize this wiry, too mechanical, too organizational depiction as EXACTLY what's going on in my weary brain! -- and why it takes another few hours to drift back to sleep. And if I'm subbing in the morning, I don't even get the eventual sleep, just the hours of tossing. Then the alarm goes off.
This image actually shows us the Heroine's Journey (as "balanced" by Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey) in which women spend endless hours sorting through lentils (or whatever), pulling out the bad ones, or else organizing endless piles of pine needles (as in Canadian Athabaskan female puberty rituals), or sifting through other piles of mess, which are so commonplace in myths and fairytales (like "Psyche & Eros").
What this schema shows so clearly is that while heroes get to wander in primal forests, encountering wise elders, loyal companions, helpful beasties, and the like, heroines get to wander in a post-industrial nightmare world filled with nitty-gritty worries that etch, like acid, alien patterns into our psyches. No glorious dragons here, no berserker warriors, no meditations along a pristine river. Just a lot of industrial crap.
This is a fabulous image...and I thank you. I've never seen the issue so clearly. Tonight, suitably forewarned, I plan to sleep with my loyal dragons and to hell with the rest of this nonsense <smile>.
KathleenKathleen,Wed, 03 Dec 2008 01:50:43: I answered with this:
It's also the Labyrinth, which Ariadne has a thread through, and Theseus can only follow hers. He doesn't have to think about it.
Copyright © CyberTigger:-- used with permissionHmmmmm, a most interesting comment. Labyrinth vs lentils. I hadn't thought of it in those terms because the past few decades I've been immersed in the endless nuts and bolts of lentil-issues: counting them, arranging them, assessing them, sometimes grading them, other times writing reports on them, proof-reading my reports, figuring out where to send the reports, then revising them still further, seeking grants for them, making ends meet in the meantime, juggling bills, dreaming about them, etc, etc. It's nitty-gritty detail-stuff. Nothing too grand and sweeping. Just endlessly weird, kooky details, which is what the "Why Women Can't Sleep" image shows so mercilessly.
Many fairytales reflect this isolated organizing/arranging/counting motif when it comes to the "heroine's" path. Heroes have helpers -- so do heroines, but there's often a huge difference. Rumplestiltskin, for example, helps the Miller's Daughter spin three isolated rooms of straw into gold but his price is her firstborn child. I can think of no fairytale in which a hero's helper demands his firstborn child ---- hero's helpers are much more magnanimous -- well, except where firtstborn Isaac and Jesus are concerned, but they're part of a different mythic strand.
Many indigenous female puberty rituals also reflect the same constrained parameters -- e.g., the young woman is confined to an isolated room, tent, hut, cave, whatever, and given carefully detailed tasks to perform in total isolation, and with few or no generous helpers.
But you're right. The older and pre-patriarchal motif is indeed Ariadne's Labyrinth, which, since she'd already thoroughly "grokked" it, Theseus really can blindly, trustingly follow the thread she offers him.
The mysterious labyrinth-motif might well be the missing piece here. Of course, Theseus betrayed Ariadne when he abandoned her on the nearby island of Naxos after they escaped from Crete, but that's where Dionysus found her and took her to be his eternal bride. So her decision to help a rogue prince brought her to the god of ecstasy and eventually to a place among the stars as the Northern Crown constellation.
Thank you for this, Judith! I really appreciate your bringing in the older labyrinth theme because it adds a much older, richer dimension to "Why women can't sleep."
Kathleen[Note: for more on labyrinths, including an online version functioning as a lovely "onscreen meditative tool" from San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, see the "Labyrinths" section of my Common Themes: Landscape page. I would point out, by the way, that the concept of a winding, single path -- i.e., one way in and the same way out -- is true of contemporary labyrinths based on Medieval Christian models. But until very recently, "labyrinth" included the meaning of "maze," in which one can easily be lost. The Minotaur's labyrinth was of the maze type.]
More thoughts: Since December 3rd, 2008, I have continued to mull over the labyrinth issue. In today's deeply troubled economic times, men also awake too frequently under a constant onslaught of worry. Societal expectations that males be breadwinner, hero, dragon-slayer, Superman, might be creating impossible, life-threatening burdens for them. I have seen no statistics on whose sleep is more fractured, women's or men's, but if I approach the problem from the mythic viewpoint, I do see certain crucial differences which may favor women. The world of labyrinths, caves, kivas, and subterreanean rivers belongs to vegetation goddesses like Persephone or Ariadne, whose root cellars are the source of future harvests, or to spinners of cosmic destinies, like the Norns or Grandmother SpiderWoman. That subterranean world is, in a sense, humanity's ancient, life-trusting root-chakra, guided and protected by the Divine Feminine....Poet, Judith Roche, winner of a 2007 American Book Award for her Wisdom of the Body.
..("Fertility," © Rose Pearson -- used with permission).....This is an alien place for most males -- they are more comfortable out in the open with thunder and lightning gods like Baal, Zeus, or Thor. Actually, that's what Israel's Yahweh was originally -- as El Shaddai, he was a mountain stormgod in the Sinai. Overlooking his realm, overlooking him, was the ancient Moon-Goddess, Sin (for whom the Sinai was named), goddess of the celestial labyrinth, traced out by her nightly moon-phases ("as above, so below"). But because the Sinai deserts were better suited to grazing herds, El Shaddai's storms favored early patriarchal skygod-worshipping nomads, not vegetation/underworld goddess-worshipping peoples. As the power of such nomads spread to more fertile landscapes, they brought destruction to the Underworld's above-ground manifestations -- those mysterious temples nestled among cultivated gardens and sacred groves. Everything belonging to the Divine Feminine was razed in a frenzy of fundamentalism.
Perhaps ancestral guilt is one reason why many men find the Underworld so alien. It seems to make them feel small, trapped, devoured by an omnipresent yoni. There's no sky above them, just rock, and it's dark and eerie. Thus, in countless fairytales, when males do go in, it's with sword in hand, the determination to kill a dragon (or its mother), and a burning desire to make off with a treasure of gold, silver and jewels.
Females, on the other hand, usually recognize that the true underworld treasure is life, not inedible baubles. So they tend life there -- roots, seeds, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, bubbling springs of water, animal-cubs, and younglings of many species. Sometimes they even give refuge to endangered male infants, hiding them like precious seeds. So Aphrodite carries the newborn Adonis to Persephone's Underworld for safe-keeping. Zeus is hidden by his mother Hera in a Cretan cave with Amalthea, the wise she-goat who suckles him. Jesus is born in a cave among stabled animals and laid in their grass-filled manger.
When women lose that connection by forgetting either how to thread their way through a labyrinth of celestial stars or through the oracular pathways in the labyrinthine depths of earth, their lives may begin to feel narrowed because of poverty, stress, disease, or hopelessness. Women then tend to fade into passive victimhood. Not all of us -- some retain the knack of fighting back like Amazons -- but others of us lose our basic root-chakra, inner-kiva, trust in life. We get cut off, willingly or inadvertantly, from that deeper, nurturing, chthonic dimension, those wellsprings of life and hope. That's when we may find ourselves in alien, torturous, mechanical nightmare-ish mazes, like the image at the top of this page. We cannot sleep there. We need somehow to reclaim and re-activate our own labyrinths and wellsprings, within us and below us. That certainty is what I now take with me from this exploration.
How to do this? That will inevitably differ for each of us because, as I am often reminded by poet Peter Viereck's words,*A start in this process, however, might be a recognition that, whether as part of female puberty rituals or as a major element in one's own life journey, the endless sorting and arranging of minutiae seem to be designed to instill patience, something which tends to be required more from women than from men. But there can also be a soothing rhythm to this process that can open unexpected portals of insight.Thirst is not reasoned. There is for each own darkness
No general compass.
Thus, on December 11th, several days after the exchange between Judith Roche and me, well-known author, Patricia Moneghan (who, with her husband, Michael McDermott, M.D., co-founded the Black Earth Institute), added her own reactions:...I keep intending to respond to [X's] hysterically funny post. I've been too busy managing things. Kathleen's comments really struck home, as I'd spent several weekends sorting the drying beans we grew this summer. It was strangely and compulsively satisfying. I found myself almost hypnotized by the reds, beiges and blacks of the seeds as I was sorting. Rather like needlework, but ultimately edible....I love the earthiness of what Patricia writes. I so wish I shared it! After reading her post yesterday, I went looking for a small bag of organic red lentils that I bought a year or two ago in a health food store. I was wondering whether I too might not be soothed and satisfied by laying out the lentils in neatly patterned rows (which is how a basket of pine needles, brought to the young girl each morning by a female elder, must be laid out in the Canadian Athabaskan puberty ritual I mentioned earlier). Or I could lay them out in lovely spirals. Surely, that would be soothing. I could do this every night before turning in and then look forward to a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
When I found the bag, however, I immediately saw that I'd forgotten how minuscule lentils actually are. That's when reality set in -- and also a new shift in thought. Patricia has amazing skills and creative energies for dealing with the nitty-gritty aspects of the sensate world. I don't. Arranging pinhead-sized lentils in spirals would drive me crazy. Then I'd wind up dreaming about the bleepin' things all night. Well, I thought, what about using pine needles instead? Actually, that might work but there are no nearby trees where I could collect the needles. Then I recalled that I had some dried garbanzo beans in one of my cupboards -- those beans are gigantic compared with lentils and would be much faster and easier to work with. But when I tried to imagine myself actually squatting in my unheated library (my legs aching and my hands freezing) and patterning beans in spirals on a white carpet, I decided to forego the pleasure. Maybe next summer.
So finding my "compass" will not involve lentils or beans. Actually, since starting this new webpage a week or so ago, I've been sleeping longer and more peacefully that I have in months. Images of labyrinths and kivas have definitely helped. And I just found this sunset image in my old files -- who couldn't use this as a portal through which to find a safe, peaceful place in which to sleep. For what it's worth <smile>.
Continuing: Patricia's reaction, however, does alert me to the need for someone to create more versatile, psychologically sopisticated models for Hero/Heroine Journeys than what we currently have. C. J. Jung's four psychological types/functions -- thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition -- could be very useful for this. This is not the place to venture into the thickets of what Jung means by each type (further complicated by the fact that each one also includes an extroverted or introverted aspect -- for those interested, I would recommend Irene Claremont de Castillejo's Knowing Woman instead of Jung's work). I bring up Jung, however, only to point out that our two Hero/Heroine Journey models are heavily skewed toward the sensate type -- the Hero fights, hunts, finds allies, fights, is mentored by wise guide, fights, slays dragons, makes off with treasure, fights, marries princess, goes off to fight some more, and so forth. Films about Indiana Jones or King Arthur are classic examples of Campbell's "Hero's Journey." "The Gate"
© Christophe Vacher
The Heroine, on the other hand, simply performs mundane, often tedious, sensate-focused tasks with endless patience. An example of the Heroine's Journey is Hans Christian Andersen's 1838 fairytale "The Wild Swans" (earlier variants come from the Brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang, and others). In this tale, under a geas of complete silence (no talking, no laughing), the heroine spends years knitting eleven longsleeved shirts for her eleven ensorcelled swan-brothers. These shirts cannot be knit from yarn. With hands constantly raw and bleeding, she must painfully knit them from piles of stinging nettles that she gathers from graveyards. There is no one for her to slay and no one befriends her -- even her grief-stricken king-husband finally condemns her to the stake because everyone believes she is a witch. Her only task is to collect, arrange, and knit vast amounts of nettles. The utterance of even a single word during those years would nullify all her efforts.Sidebar: It should be noted here that fairytale heroines are often denied their voice, whether through violence, vow, or a convenient coma (e.g., Sleeping Beauty, Snow White). This is no surprise. Patriarchal cultures greatly fear a woman's voice -- look at what they did to Medusa: they needed her lithifying head as a weapon but they could never have used it without disconnecting it from her outraged protests. I have written about Medusa on other Myth*ing Links pages but I learned from Judith Roche only last week about the ancient Greek motif of hanged heroines and hanged goddesses. In skimming through Jennifer Larson's Greek Heroine Cults (U. of Wisc., 1995), I found that if a woman in ancient Greece was humiliated or raped, instead of protesting such abuse, the culturally preferred solution was for her to commit suicide by hanging herself. In death, the young woman might be honored and celebrated with cultic ritual offerings and sometimes even be assimilated to a local goddess. Obviously, whether by beheading (Medusa's fate) or by self-hanging, the underlying objective in each form of death was the swift and permanent silencing of a woman's voice -- something no spear or knife could do as well.Regardless of dramatic content (or lack thereof), it's clear that the traditional tasks of a Hero's Journey or a Heroine's Journey are firmly rooted in the sensate function. This leads me to ask what the Journey might look like for those millions of people whose dominant type is not sensate, but one of the other three, especially those whose dominant type is intuition (whether extroverted or introverted) which, since intuition lies at the opposite pole from the sensate realm, means that the sensate world is its major blindspot (just as for the sensate, the world of intuition is its blindspot -- note that for thinking and feeling types, both sensation and intuition are ancillary and often used in unique ways).
Jungians and other psychologists make marvelous use of fairytales, myths and films in exploring shadow issues, anima/animus, the collective unconscious, sexuality, death, alchemy, and so forth (e.g., Marie-Louise von Franz's The Interpretation of Fairy Tales; also a great series by Murray Stein & my former Pacifica colleague, Lionel Corbett: Psyche's Stories, especially Vol.1 & Vol. 3). My hope is that the same tools will be used to expand the parameters of Campbell's Hero's Journey by exploring the myths, fairytales and films that are examples of the other three types.
This would offer our hero-worshipping, often bullying, misogynistic, violence-prone culture a much more tolerant array of "heroic" paths, and in so doing, help wean the culture from an uncritical and too easily exploited onesidedness. Growing tolerance would activate deeper wellsprings of kindness and compassion.
And women might sleep better again.Addendum: 11:45pm, Saturday, 10 January 2009: a month ago, this page continued with eight sections of annotated links (including lengthy excerpts) relevant to a wide range of women's issues: Women and Food Scarcity, Women and National Security, Women and Money, Women and Foreclosures, Women as Artists and Scholars, Women and Education, Women and "Illegals," and Women and Prison. Unfortunately, this made the page impossibly long. I have now decided to keep my opening "Why Women Can't Sleep" essay as an Introduction only. The rest will now be found on a page of its own: Gender Issues: Women -- Annotations and Excerpts.
Mentioned on This Page:
...Poet, PeterViereck's New and Selected Poems.
...Irene Claremont de Castillejo's splendid Knowing Woman. I have used her work in my personal life as well as in countless lectures. I have found it of immense, on-going, profound value.
...Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories.
...The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales. Introduction by Padraic Colum and Commentary by Joseph Campbell.
...Andrew Lang: Collected Works. (Note: this is a link to Volume One, which includes all 12 of his fairy tale books.)
...Jennifer Larson's Greek Heroine Cults.
...Marie-Louise von Franz's The Interpretation of Fairy Tales.
...Murray Stein & my Pacifica Graduate Institute colleague, Lionel Corbett,
Psyche's Stories, Vol.1.
...Murray Stein & my Pacifica Graduate Institute colleague, Lionel Corbett:
Psyche's Stories, Vol. 3.
Animal Guides: [Also see below under Food and Drink: Sacrality & Lore]January 10, 2009: these menu-listings are correct as of today, but they are always changing as I add new ones. In the future, please click on my Home Page for current Site map.
Down to Geographical Regions: Africa
This page created with Netscape 4.7: colors may
appear distorted on Macs.
Text and Design:
© 2008-2009 by Kathleen Jenks, Ph.D.
All rights reserved
Page created 2-3am, 3 December 2008;
I expanded essay, started annotating links, made many revisions: 6-17 December 2008;
final revisions and proofing 20 December 2008.
Officially launched 12:37am, 20-21 December 2008:
Norse celebration of Modresnach ("Mother Night") / Winter Solstice Eve.
26 December 2008, 2:15am EST -- added "Women & Money" section with a new image and link.
10-11 January 2009, 12:03am: page split off from eight lengthy sections of annotated links and excerpts.
11 January 2009, 2-3:30pm: added keywords for search engines; also gave a sharper focus to final two paragraphs.
16 October 2009: altered structure at end, breaking final paragraph into three & shortening final sentence.
Added 10 in-text amazon links to books + "Books" section at the end.
* Note: Peter Viereck's words come from "Five Walks on the Edge" in New and Selected Poems.