Everyone here at Anima Sanctuary is themselves a writer, with Rhiannon, Elka, Kiva and I all dedicated to putting into words the experiences, insights, lessons and tales that might help enliven and inspire others. Our Plant Healer Magazine and many of our books consist of essays written by each of us, gathered into a purposeful collection. It is rare, however, that we try to co-write anything besides website text and announcements. The following comprises the only exception, an exercise by Kiva and myself, resulting in an article on a topic that can very much benefit from the perspectives of both a man and a woman: gender. It’s been a decade since this was first printed in a regional periodical, we hope you”ll still find it a valuable contribution to this ongoing and important conversation. –Wolf
by Jesse Wolf Hardin & Kiva Rose
(www.AnimaCenter.org/blog – www.PlantHealer.org)
While exclusively neither male nor female, the living planet – the natural world – embodies, contains, expresses, agitates and unleashes the qualities and characteristics of both. We’re each integral, inseparable components of that living whole. As such, we too are a collection of traits, abilities, tendencies and potentials that in consort, constitute our authentic selves. These neither define, nor are defined by gender. Unlike some of the other life-forms, we humans can assume roles according to our individual desires, characteristics and callings. And unlike most of our fellow creatures, we have the option of creating or co-creating our roles in life, not just suffering, accepting or acquiring them. Together we explore a shared path to balance, personal, sexual and global… in the still distinctive voices of woman and man.
Wolf: There’s a certain igneous cliff face near our home, with instructive rock art thousands of years old. The tribe of Mogollon Indians who lived here, the Sweet Medicine People, moved out of their underground houses and down into the valley below over 900 years before my arrival. The cliffs were made not by some gentle erosion or the overlapping of tectonic plates, but rather by the force of liquid earth erupting in a display of shifting color and uncompromised heat. Near the top of one, sheltered by a sloping overhang, is the sacred spiral painted next to phallic rhyolite spires and vaginal sandstone clefts. We often climb them, proceeding at a pace that is deliberately and meticulously slow. We’ll finger every sinuous earthen contour, press our bodies into magenta folds, pull ourselves up by the distinctively phallic projections.
In nature, male and female principals intersect and interact, without absorbing or overpowering each other, just as the brilliant colors of the cliffs mingle and vibrate against one another rather than dissolving into a common indifferentiable grey. Nature is a balance of diverse expressions — rock, tree, hawk, man, woman — that touch, mingle, and exchange with one another without sacrificing either the aesthetic value of contrast or the kinesis fueled by their dissimilarities.
Kiva: When I was a child, my well-meaning grandmother routinely tried to stuff me into frilly pink dresses, all of which were unceremoniously removed as soon as I was out of her sight. Back in the woods, I would slip happily into my favorite pair of blue jeans, the ones with both the knees worn through from all my tree climbing and underbrush adventures. It wasn’t that I thought the dresses ugly, and in fact I kept most all of them in order to admire the pretty colors and lacy fabrics. Nor did it have anything to do with not liking them, as much as that they didn’t suit my propensity to crawl through muddy swampland or collect wildflowers from spiny thickets. They simply weren’t an accurate expression of who I was. My family kept telling me, and each other, that I’d soon grow out of my “tomboy” phase. Yet at 15 I was still requesting Swiss army pocketknives for Christmas, and still receiving sewing kits instead.
As my teen years progressed, my grandparents suggested I think about becoming a stewardess. My mother, being slightly more liberal, thought I’d be better off becoming a teacher than the architect or artist that I intended to be. Just like the dress, both suggestions were rejected immediately and adamantly. I wanted no part in what I saw as boring and potentially oppressive roles simply because I happened to be born female.
Wolf: I am a man. There is no way around it. I could shave off my ample facial hair, conceal my musculature in loose-fitting garments, temper my at times arrogant posturing, resist making proud eye contact, and still I am incontrovertibly male. I am engaged in my maleness. I rise up from the depths of my maleness as the first creatures rose from the primordial seas. I am buffeted and driven by uniquely male hormones, a mortal sail filled with the masculine instincts of countless generations.
Long before both man and woman codeveloped language and culture, long before patriarchal civilization overtook the minds of the populace, there existed male energy inseparable from the flesh and intent of Mother Earth. It fueled and colored the lives of our male ancestors, from the first “Y” chromosome through reptilian and primate paramours, from my early Celt and Norse predecessors to my known relatives. I am of the planet. I am animal. I am mammal. I am man. Together these aspects of my identity form the context of my being. These are the “givens,” the corpus animus, the terrestrial/contextual/experiential basis and body from which I must work. There is nothing I can do that cannot be done by a woman, but I do it with a man’s body, out of the needs and calling of a man’s heart. I can make no apologies for my being, only for inappropriate or unjust actions.
Some consider men in general to be inherently dictatorial, insensitive and war loving. To the contrary, I believe the problem is not with the nature of masculinity, but men’s disenfranchisement from our natural maleness — a maleness that is as compassionate and protective as competitive and aggressive. As with all social and environmental disease, the cure likely lies in the reclamation of our essential beings, instead of in the suppression of intrinsic instincts, tendencies and urges. The solution for both genders would seem to be becoming ever more ourselves, not less so.
Kiva: Throughout my adolescence, I searched for a role model or an archetype to which I could relate. My search led me through the teen traps of anorexic pop divas and shallow cultural icons that left me with a feeling of lonely otherness. Just as my body refused to conform to artificial standards of size and shape, my personality resisted being reduced to a cliché — whether bad girl, romantic, sporty or city chic. Being a woman seemed to mean paring down or altering who I really was at the core.
The older I got, the more I realized how often we sell ourselves short by expressing only fragments of our authentic nature. This was especially evident in my mother, as she tried desperately to pretend she was only a mother and no longer the brilliant artist and musician. I saw her grow more bitter the longer she suppressed her passions and dreams, sure that being a mother somehow implied that she would be neglecting her womanly duty if she pursued her gifts while raising her children. I also watched my best friend turn off her heart and her feelings in order to further her career. She thought if she just worked a little harder, was promoted a few more times, she’d finally find the self-worth she’d been so urgently seeking — that she’d finally be equal to the men with whom she was competing tooth and nail. I remember her tearfully admitting to me that she deeply missed her husband, but that depending on a man was a form of weakness she could not allow herself. I promised myself that no single part or aspect of who I really am would ever overshadow or subsume the other.
What neither my mother nor my friend could see was that women are multifaceted whole beings, not one-dimensional paper dolls of mother, wife or career woman. I realized that I was not unfeminine in my adventurousness and tenacity, nor was I too feminine in my sentimentality and emotional nature — not unnatural but utterly natural, a unique expression of woman. I came to understand that all the roles and aspects I expressed were equally me, not disparate contending parts. Wearing a knife atop a lacy dress. Cuddling and playing with my infant daughter, while ready to fiercely defend myself and my loved ones. Nurturing delicate flowers from seed to blossom, yet capable of taking a life to provide our dinner. We are each strands and elements of the infinite expression of what it means to be woman and, at the same time, an alliance of many beautiful pieces coming together to make us who we really are, to make us most whole.
Wolf: There is an alternative male archetype to the Marlboro man, the stoic provider, the commander in chief willing to sacrifice any number of “his boys” to do what he thinks is right. That alternate is the ancient Green Man, forever linking men back to the raw, connective, vegetative, regenerative processes of nature. The Green Man is connected at the root to the source itself, tapping the rich nocturnal loam of a fermentive earthen heart. This icon of the masculine draws power from the maternity and mortality of Mother Earth, in cyclic reciprocity and carnal interpenetration. Simultaneously born of and lover of the Goddess/Earth, his distinctive maleness works in consort with essentially feminine forces.
The Green Man romped through Paleolithic imaginations long before being adapted to the role as a minor god of agriculture, the innocuous carved corners of church architecture serving as a subtle reminder of our pre-Christian pantheism. He evolved to become Bacchus in ancient Rome, Osiris in Egypt, Shiva in India and Dionysus in classical Greece. Along with his duties as spreader of seeds and guarantor of crops, he was the god of divine rapture, charged with the promulgation and sanctification of human ecstasy. He not only inseminated the wafting rows of plants but turned the grapes into wine, encouraging revelry to counter the increasing reticence and restraint of expanding civilization. In Mayan and Aztecan cultures he was called “the prince of flowers,” Xochipilli, instrumental in their initiation into the realms of embodied spirit, the leafen, vine-entwined corridors leading to their own wild and glorious beings.
With the Green Man we find a seminal and assertive, prolific and playful maleness. A natural maleness in balance with, in contract with, in coitus with the fermentive feminine, the archetypal Mother Earth from which it arose, and to which all returns. A male empowerment that complements and contributes to the expression of female power.
Kiva: In the haphazard sprawl of dandelion and the clinging beauty of ivy, I saw the face of the Green Woman. Just as the Green Man is the alternative to male cultural limitations and stereotypes, so the lesser-known Green Woman provides an empowering choice for women. As the feminine face of nature, she is best known as Sheela-Na-Gig, her delighted face and spread legs still adorning the stonework of many ancient churches in England and France. She can also be found crafted as a distinctly female body emerging from a tangle of vines and foliage. The image of the Green Woman and the history of the goddesses that embody her were my first glimpse at a powerful femaleness I could look to for inspiration in my quest for identity and place.
I found her everywhere I looked, not just in the wild places I hitched to and hiked in, but in the weeds erupting from sidewalk and roadside, in botanical gardens and city parks. I saw her when I gathered wild greens for my salad from abandoned ghetto lots and reveled in her beauty from under the oaks lining suburban streets. Part of the power of the Green Woman is in the way she adapts and thrives in even the most unlikely places, teaching us how to best remain our own essential selves, even when we feel out of place or oppressed by pressure to conform to what passes for “normalcy”.
The Green Woman is fecund creation, the inspirited source and conduit of life, but she is also the disruptive force of the hurricane. She is not just one aspect of destruction or creativity but many, sometimes embodying seeming contradictions in a single place and moment in the same way that dying, decaying plant matter is also new life in the form of vibrantly healthy soil.
The Green Woman’s complex and constantly evolving nature provides us with a positive and flexible way of seeing ourselves beyond the destructive or self-limiting perceptions we may have taken on over the years. Beyond the institutionalized virgin/whore syndrome, where every woman is either a devoted housewife and mother or else a home-wrecking rebel. Beyond even the more modern stereotypes of cold-blooded corporate-ladder climber or angry feminist. Past labels and into who we really are at our cores: the intrinsic magical beings that cannot be defined by personality quizzes, marital status or societal pigeonholes.
The Green Woman is as constantly changing as the seasons and as steady as the turning of the planet on its axis. She fosters delight and deep grief, fierce protection and unsurpassed tenderness. We, as women, embody all these aspects, in varying proportions through a myriad of expressions, as seen in classic goddess archetypes such as Artemis, an unclaimed woman and midwife; in the Norse hearth goddess Frigga’s deep devotion to home and children, with an unmatched wisdom that allowed her to guide family and followers; and in the Finnish bear goddess Mielikki, who roamed the far northern woodlands as a wild creature, fiercely loyal to both mate and home.
Wolf: Especially in the face of prevailing political and cultural trends, it’s important that men nourish the qualities of creativity, sensitivity, emotionality, gentleness and intuition ascribed to the “feminine side.” However, the very fact that they exist as aspects of a male body means they are as much masculine as they are feminine. Crying over sad songs, nuzzling small animals, tending to the needs of children, writing poetry or learning to make love ever so sweetly and slowly, doesn’t mean a man is getting in touch with his “inner woman”. Nor is a woman tapping any latent reservoirs of male energy when she exhibits the strength, confidence, purposefulness or drive regularly attributed to men. We all contain both male and female energies, but none of these are elements of gender so much as of character.
A man can and should feel comfortable staying home and caring for his children while his wife works to pay the bills, if it serves and satisfies him as well as benefits his family. Or making a living designing and sewing clothes, if he has the talent. And women have long proved they can both enjoy and excel at every career or task ever considered to be “men’s work.”
What we need to do, however, isn’t just to escape restrictive stereotypical gender roles, but to consciously and purposefully assume or even design and then manifest our roles in life. Those roles that best express, fulfill and satisfy our authentic selves: our talents, desires, gifts, hopes and dreams. And those that best help us contribute to, serve, nourish, heal or make more beautiful the world of which we’re an integral and dynamic part.
A Tewa prayer seems to say it all: Within and around the Earth, within and around the hills, within and around the mountain, your authority returns to you.
The authority to be yourself!
Kiva: These days I share responsibility for both our Plant Healer publications and our Anima Wilderness Sanctuary, deep in New Mexico’s Gila. I serve as both teacher and healer, two roles often thought of as predominately feminine in our culture. I became a teacher, however, not because I succumbed to familial pressure or societal standards but because I discovered through experimentation and study that this was the path that best suits me, that I feel most whole in pursuing. Embracing femininity in any traditional sense took time for me to accept. I needed to separate myself from the dictates of society and the uniforms my family had thrust me into in order to know what it was to follow my heart.
We possess in our authentic selves the power to re-create our roles. We do this by creating new stories of self, weaving from the web of the world a new way of being and seeing — stretching past imagined limitations of self and gender into primal womanhood. This power is rooted not in disempowering or opposing men, but in our intrinsic uniqueness, the moon cycles of our body, and the dance of emotion and creation birthed from the first mother, our Earth. Gender is neither our cage nor husk. It can express the reality of who we choose to be, in whatever forms we choose, providing roles true to our genuine natures.
The first of the year is the time of quickly transitioning days, when the sap of the willows is drawn deep into their centers, ready to burst forth as new leaves in the spring. Here in the canyon where we live, it means quiet hours close to home, joining our other partner in preparing new lessons and curricula for the coming summer events at this sanctuary and teaching center. We find in the cycles of stillness and activity, assertiveness and vulnerability — in our loving relationship with each other and within our complex individual selves — an enlivening equipoise, a vital partnership and correspondence. The bloom, and the balance.
If I could tell you what it all means,
there would be no point in dancing it.
— Isadora Duncan
The following are some practical suggestions for re-envisioning our roles, then making our visions real in our lives:
• Be aware of when you are embodying your culture’s limited definition of masculinity or femininity, acting out old patterns or movie roles. There is nothing male about being unavailable, unemotional, domineering or violent. Nor is it specifically female to be sensitive, nurturing or obedient.
• Men can be more aware of when they’re suppressing their nature, strength or passion in order to appear less macho, and not be so afraid of being stereotyped that they become malleable when they need to be substantial and definitive, or submissive when the situation calls for assertiveness. Women can pay attention to when they are acting out societal preferences and fantasies, as well as when they are eschewing cooking or downplaying their femininity to avoid being negatively typecast as the helper or the helpless.
• Roles are relational commitments we make, needs we satisfy, purposes and missions we gladly fulfill, not uniforms we select and wear, obligations with which we’re saddled, or what we do at our jobs. Our “work” may be secretarial, our “role” cheering up the bored clerks or providing advice on personal matters.
• Redefine all your roles in terms of who you are and what your gift is, not which gender you happen to be. Wear the clothes, assignments, jobs that feel most like you. Then, to excel at your roles is to excel at being wholly, proactively yourself.
• You have only a finite number of waking hours in your mortal life. Reassess your priorities and chosen roles monthly, weekly or even daily.
• Pay attention to when something is a role and when it’s merely rote. One accomplishes something either way. The difference is our degree of awareness, our intention, how wholly we are utilized and stretched, how much meaning we invest, and the amount of satisfaction it brings us.
• If we are totally conscious and response-able, every moment will be a decisive moment for us, every act intentional and deliberate. And it is those deliberate acts that will then define our roles, instead of the other way around.
Whether female, male, or any of the infinite possible variations and combinations – be your genuine selves in life, filling your genuine purpose. Nothing else is fully living.
–Wolf and Kiva (www.AnimaCenter.org/blog – www.PlantHealer.org)
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