Learning To See In The Dark: Reclaiming Our Power, Transforming Our World Through The Dark Woman Archetype

This article is the transcript of a lecture I delivered in September 2016 at the Women’s Health & Fitness Summit presented by Bellyfit™. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

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It’s been said that there are three lines of ancestry: your blood lines, your milk lines and your story lines.

Here is my blood line.

My name is Carmen Spagnola, I’m a fifth generation settler of Scottish descent. My last name “Spagnola” is a made up name, I invented it. At the time of my daughter’s birth, her father and I were no longer a couple so when she was born I legally gave us both a new last name that so that whenever she heard it, she would hear both her father’s and her mother’s lineage echoed back to her. Her father’s family comes from southern Italy.

And I come from myself.

Or, more accurately, I come from a long line of women whose last names mean less to me than their first.

Even more accurately, I come from a family of my own creation and a people of my own gathering who believe you are better defined by your actions and your contribution than your name or your status.

And while I’m on the topic of myself, I am a registered clinical hypnotherapist, and also trained as a wilderness guide so essentially: I lead people on journeys, through the inner and outer landscape.

And now, my milk line. A milk line is made up of the people and ideas that have nurtured you and shaped your character.

By speaking their names, I call these women into our collective consciousness. I summon forth the power of their ideas. I invite their radical courage and the grace of their presence to be with me and dwell among us now.

I stand here a student and devotee in the lineage of:

Author and Jungian psychoanalyst, Jean Shinoda Bolen

Ecofeminist and co-founder of the U.S. Green Party, Charlene Spretnak

Astrologers and mythologists, Demetra George and Caroline Casey

Midwifery activists, Elizabeth Davis and Carol Leonard

Anthropologist, Peggy Reeves Sanday

Archeologist, ethnologist and linguist, Marija Gimbutas

And now, to the story line…

Today, I’d like to share my perspective on the Dark Woman archetype in our personal and collective unconscious, and how we can reclaim her gifts for the betterment of our own lives and the greater good.

It’s important to me to establish a framework of understanding at the outset of our time together. For the next hour, sometimes I’m going to talk about qualities of femaleness such as menses and birth, but please don’t get all essentialist and thinking that I’m locking women’s power to reproduction — because I’m not, not at all. Of course we are more than our biology.

What I’m talking about is the metaphor of “woman as earth”, as a primary image in the human imagination. That’s what I mean when I’m talking about femaleness. When I say “woman”, count yourself in if you feel it, I don’t care what you’ve got going on in your biology.

But I’d also like to point out that the Dark Woman archetype and the related Dark Moon phenomenon that I’ll be referencing is not exclusively the domain of women. The phases of the moon themselves are not gendered and men are very much affected by the cycles of the moon so although I am centering women’s experience, it doesn’t exclude the male experience.

A final note on swearing: I adhere to the philosophy that we ought to think like a wise woman but speak in the voice of the people. My people say, “fuck”.

Who is the Dark Woman?

Sometimes she’s called Dark Moon Woman, Queen of Shadows, Queen of the Underworld, Black Time, or the Dark Goddess.

You’ve heard her story told through Archetypal Dark Goddesses from around the world including Persephone, Lilith, Medusa, Hecate, Kali, Durga, Isis, Bast, Inanna, Cerridwen, Morrigan and the Coast Salish Basket Woman of the Forest, among others.

She’s no lightweight. She means business. She is fierce, passionate and devouring.

This is the woman who destroys in order to renew.

She avenges to restore balance.

She is the Implacable One who feeds on old life so that new life may grow.

She is the one who comes to us when we are overly attached and overly identified, and demands that we let it go or we break it up, or she’ll do it for us.

She demands of us that we become ruthless about our integrity — in relationships, roles, possessions, identities and values, and because of that she threatens our self-image, our achievements, our accumulations, our ego.

Sometimes, she arrives in our lives, riding the back of trauma and trouble and heartbreak, like a kind of visitation or apparition, as though the Dark Woman has come to take you on a prolonged shamanic journey into your depths.

If we don’t understand her when she comes, if we aren’t aware of her power, if we don’t acknowledge her gifts, then when we can experience her as: a feeling of fear, confusion, paralysis, and depression. Or we can feel tempestuous, frenzied, out of control, manic, and grasping. We can be shattered, in denial and desperation.

Meanwhile, you’re supposed to keep the lights on, keep the rent paid, keep getting out of bed, keep going to work, keep shuttling the kids around, keep making supper, as though your world isn’t COMPLETELY CRUMBLING inside.

And you do it, acting as though every fibre of your being isn’t screaming, ENOUGH!

But here’s the thing about avoiding her, about the strategy so many of us adopt of doing-as-coping, and productivity-as-anesthetic:

The more resistant we are to the Dark Woman’s influence, the greater force we have to create within ourselves in order to loosen our attachments.

The more our ego protests, the more crafty our psyche becomes.

In other words, this situation that we are holding together with a desperate white-knuckle grip of control will become so problematic that we are ultimately forced to release it, or it goes supernova.

If you don’t do it, life will do it for you.

Now, to really dive deeper into the Dark Woman archetype, I’d like to tell you a story, one with which many of you will be very familiar, it’s called The Rape of Persephone.

This myth comes from the Hellenic period roughly around 3,000 BCE, from the area basically around present-day Greece and Turkey.

The main characters are Zeus, the supreme god of all gods, and his brother Hades, who ruled the Underworld. And it involves one of Zeus’s lovers, Demeter, who was the goddess of the bountiful harvest. And their daughter, Perspehone.

This is the story of how Persephone became the majestic, venerable and often dreaded Queen of the Underworld.

The story begins as the signs of womanly beauty are beginning to shine through Persephone’s childlike innocence. One day, the adolescent goddess is walking with her mother, Demeter, who is surveying the land and assessing the crops. And Persephone gets bored with agrarian problems, as teenagers do, and she wanders off on her own to pick flowers. So she’s picking narcissus and enraptured by their intoxicating scent, she eventually wanders well out of sight.

As she’s gathering flowers, Persephone “unwittingly attracts the attention” of Hades who falls instantly in love.

{Just so you know, I didn’t author that line — that line is widely published and I thought it deserved to be pointed out: it’s her fault, she didn’t mean to but she “unwittingly attracted his attention” so it is her fault. You wanna know where rape culture comes from?)

Anyway, so Hades asks Zeus if he can take his niece down to the Underworld and make her his wife. Zeus is like, Sure bro!

So while Demeter is distracted and Persephone has wandered off alone, Hades rises up through a chasm through the earth and abducts her. He takes her to his Underworld kingdom to “make her his queen” — or as the title clearly states, rape her.

Demeter hears her daughter’s screams and races to find her but of course there’s no sign of her because she’s just been swallowed up by the earth. And so at first she’s consumed by grief and sorrow, forgetting all about her crops and the harvest, she searches and searches. She searches to the ends of the earth asking, Have you seen Persephone?

Through her investigation, Demeter discovers that Zeus gave permission to Hades to abduct Persephone and make her his wife, and she. is. livid.

Consumed by fury, she demonstrates her outrage by withholding her blessing from the earth proclaiming that nothing on earth will grow until her daughter is returned to her. Droughts ensue, and the earth lay barren. Humankind faces a major famine. People are getting upset so mortals and gods alike start petitioning Zeus to do something because everyone is terrified of the Mourning Mother, Demeter.

Meanwhile, Persephone in her dark and gloomy new home misses her mother terribly, but another part of her kind of grows fond of being Queen, even if it is in the Underworld. So she takes up her role with some gusto and learns all the ways and means of power in the dark realms. And she starts receiving visitor after visitor of desperate mortals and gods who need her help, and she obliges sometimes and really makes them work for it other times.

Back above ground, the months have dragged on and mankind is nearing the end of its rope, beginning to succumb to this new phenomenon of winter. Everyone’s begging Demeter to have mercy but she won’t so Zeus finally relents and sends Hermes the Messenger down to fetch Persephone and bring her back to her mother.

But before Persephone leaves, Hades tricks her and says, You should really have something to eat before you go on your long trip home, and he offers her some food. She eats three pomegranate seeds and then I guess she’s full because she’s a goddess.

So Persephone returns above ground and is joyfully reunited with her mother and they embrace but Demeter says, Wait — tell me you didn’t eat any anything all those months in the Underworld.

And Persephone confesses, Just three pomegranate seeds, and Demeter’s like, Goddamnit, Hades!

So, because she has eaten from the fruit of Underworld, Persephone is now cursed to return to it every year for one month for each pomegranate seed she has eaten. Every year, during that time Demeter falls into bitter mourning and humankind experiences winter.

So in this telling of the story, the Persephone is supposed to represent both the youthful, innocent, and joyous maiden aspect of a woman, as well as the more womanly self who, with her innocence lost and family attachments loosened, can begin to claim her own knowledge, and identity and power, but only of course within the boundaries that men have laid out for her.

And as I mentioned, there are many stories of people getting special permission to venture down to the Underworld and it seems like Persephone is always conveniently there. It’s always winter when shit goes down. And in these stories Persephone is variously presented as compassionate, scheming, helpful, vengeful — she’s depicted as actually quite a fickle character. You never know what you’re going to get. Basically, she becomes a convenient foil for whatever the story requires.

I think we can hear many echoes of The Rape of Persephone in our culture today. But I don’t want to list them for you, I don’t want to give them any more airtime. Instead, let’s lay that story down, now.

I’d like to tell you a different story, one with which probably only a few of you will be familiar.

It’s called,

The Myth of Demeter and Persephone.

It comes from Pre-Hellenic Greece, roughly from 3,000–7,000 BCE and likely has roots going back as early as 10,000 BCE and some evidence points to possibly as early as 23,000 BCE.

Regardless, it’s a much older story…

Once upon a time there lived a goddess of agriculture who inspired people all over the known world to plant seeds and grow gardens of fruits and vegetables and flowers and groves of trees. This goddess, whose name was Demeter, had a daughter named Persephone whom she loved more than anyone and anything in the whole world.

Because the land had a mild climate, there was no winter, and so the natural cycles of planting and harvesting went on all year. And so several times a year, for days at a time, Demeter would descend under the ground and walk arm in arm with her sister goddesses — Hera (who colored the flowers), Aphrodite (who cared for herbs and kitchen gardens), and Hestia (who loved every single plant, even the ugly and stinky ones). And from underground, the goddesses encouraged the seeds and root to sprout and grow. Sometimes Persephone went with her mother and her aunts.

One day Persephone turns to her mother, Mom, sometimes when we walk under the ground, I hear the spirits of the dead moaning and crying. They tell me they’re sad and lonely and restless. And lots of times, they seem very confused about their state. Like, they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing down there. And I hear that sometimes, even mortals can see the dead hiding out in shadows and at night time.

Demeter says, I hear where you’re going with this, and I totally respect that, but that’s not our task. We’re in charge of plant life. There are other goddesses and gods in charge of life and death among mortals — that’s not our job. Our job is to encourage fertility, and agriculture and growth. Don’t get me wrong, I know all about the suffering of the dead, because when they die, mortals return to the earth — to my womb — but our job is to feed the living.

But Persephone is a smart girl. And she’s a compassionate girl.

Mom, she says, we can’t just leave them there to suffer. We have to tell them what’s what or they’ll just get stuck down there in a pit of despair never knowing that they could be resurrected into new life soooooo…..I’ve promised the spirits of the dead that I will come back and comfort them. I’ll tell them that their families still remember them. I’ll give them ceremony and ritual to cheer them up. I’ll teach them how they can be born again into new lives.

It took a lengthy and somewhat heated discussion but Demeter was finally convinced that obviously the girl had found her calling.

All right, Daughter, she sighs, I can’t stop you from going. But, I will miss you like crazy. I will be so sad that I don’t think I’ll be able to walk under the ground with your aunts and encourage the seeds and root to sprout. Instead, I’ll be keeping vigil for you, I’ll be doing ceremony and ritual for you, thinking about nothing and no one else until you return. Now go with my blessing.

(Persephone’s like, Pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip!)

Demeter gives her daughter a bouquet of poppies, narcissus and wheat sheaves to remember her by, and she also gives Persephone a bowl of pomegranate seeds as an offering of food for the dead. Demeter opens a door to the underworld through a chasm in the earth, gives her daughter her torch to illuminate the darkness, and Persephone walks down a flight of stairs that seems endless.

When she arrives in the Underworld, she gives her flowers and wheat to the spirits of the dead. She listens to them, and hugs them, tells them all about the mysteries of death and re-birth. After she has taught them all about the mysteries, she initiates them by squeezing the pomegranate seeds between her fingers and one at a time, calls forth the dead and marks their forehead with the red juice saying,

You have waxed into the fullness of life

and waned into its darkness;

may you be renewed in tranquility and wisdom.

Meanwhile, above ground, Demeter is keeping vigil for her daughter and she’s moping. She takes to her bed and neglects the land. She declines invitations to walk with her sister goddesses and they don’t want her disrespect her vigil so in solidarity, they cease going underground as well. The land grows cold and dark and barren. Winter comes, but Demeter doesn’t care because she fears she may never see her daughter again. When she does leave her bed, it’s only to search the cracks and crevices of the earth, looking for signs of her daughter’s return.

One day she sees a circle of crocuses popping out of the barren, snowy ground. And, unable to resist their beauty she leans in and as she does, the flowers whisper to her, Persephone returns!

Demeter leaps up and she runs through the fields calling to the people, into the forests waving to the dormant trees and shouting to the hungry animals, Persephone returns! Persephone returns!

And with every footfall, the earth is stirred by Demeter’s joy and new life bursts forth. When Persephone finally ascends from the dark chasm, mother and daughter embrace and mortals everywhere see the miracles of Persephone’s service and Demeter’s bliss, and all rejoice in new life.

Each winter, all the people and plants and animals join Demeter in waiting through the bleak season of her daughter’s absence and each spring they are renewed again by the signs of Persephone’s return.

Why am I re-telling this myth?

Why does this matter and what does this have to do with you?

Well, in his great interview with Bill Moyers called The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell said, Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.

So these are the stories that we carry in our personal and collective unconscious. Campbell talks about all the ways myth has supported humankind’s development: over the millennia it has helped build civilizations, informed religions, and shaped the human psyche.

But they aren’t important because of that. He says they are important because when a myth catches you, it can become a life-vivifying force that resonates with our innermost being. It is through myth that we remember what it really feels like to be truly alive.

And if we don’t find a myth that catches us and can teach us how to be really alive, then we have to figure it all out on our own, and that can be a lonely, desolate, tiring struggle.

I’m re-telling the myth, because I believe it matters to our psyche how we tell the story.

In these two versions of the myth, the same story is being told: the maiden, (representing Life and Youth) must go down to the underworld, (representing the mysteries of Death and Resurrection). In so doing, she invokes knowledge which in turns provokes winter or the Long Dark Night of the Soul. She is finally able to escape the underworld but she’s destined to return to it again and again, because once you know the mystery, you can’t unknow.

What happens when you’ve been living a myth that doesn’t ring true for you — that has been authored to paint you in an unflattering light, like the first story I told? Well, now you’re in a lonely, desolate, tiring struggle in someone else’s myth.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I believe the theft of our guiding stories is one of the factors when we as women find our inner world constantly at odds with the outer world. I believe it contributes to our doubting of our intuition and our questioning of our sanity. I believe it’s one of the reasons when, order to survive, we find ourselves conforming to a world that doesn’t feel right to our innermost being.

The parallel I see as a Spiritual Guide and as a Clinical Hypnotherapist is this:

Both the power of the Dark Woman archetype and the power of the subconscious (personal and collective) have been distorted. In the same way that the Dark Woman has become demonized and feared, the subconscious suffers a similar misrepresentation as something murky, confusing, sometimes untrustworthy. Sub meaning “beneath”, “less than” — as in “less than the conscious mind”.

But the Dark Woman archetype is actually a protective force, a facet of our virtuous self battling for what’s right.

And in fact, the main goal of the subconscious mind is to protect you.

Our mind might go about it in problematic ways, but the goal is always simple: to avoid inner conflict. So we use repression, rationalization, projection, and all kinds of things to protect ourselves.

Nobody consciously says, I can’t accept responsibility for my feelings so I think I’ll attribute these feelings to that person over there.

These defence mechanisms are unconscious, they’re natural and they’re rooted in our need for higher self-esteem but, personally and collectively, they become unhealthy and destructive if we don’t actively work to build a greater capacity to cope with discomfort.

We all know how this works from our own personal healing journeys. We know the importance of bringing subconscious fears to light so we can stop fucking around, let go of our fear and get on with the show.

Similarly, we need not need to fear the Dark Woman archetype whose role is ultimately one of Fierce Protectress.

And when we are immersed in Dark Woman energy neither should we concern ourselves when others project their feelings of discomfort onto us.

Which will definitely happen.

So instead, I suggest we look at relating to Dark Woman energy as learning to locate ourselves in the greater cycles of our lives so we can discern when to yield to feedback and seek cooperation and when it’s Dark Woman time.

When it’s time to become unyielding in the face of necessary change.

When it’s time to become unyielding in the face of violations against our values.

When it’s time to become unyielding in the face of that which we can no longer countenance.

Because there’s just not enough time for our own bullshit and we’ve got work to do.

When/Where/How does the Dark Woman show up in our lives?

No doubt about it, she can sneak up on us and show up through trauma: loss, death, divorce, debt, disease, denial gone on too long and other kinds of discord.

But there are five life cycle moments when she is reliably available to us. If we can recognize them, and seize upon them as opportunities, we’re ahead of the game.

1) During the dark phase of the lunar cycle (which is the three days leading up to a new moon)

2) During menstruation (when our body is shedding)

3) After menopause (when we become She-Who-Holds-Her-Wisdom-Inside)

4) Each year in the winter time.

5) Each year in the month prior to our birthday, when we have a greater awareness of our age and mortality, of our diminishment of vitality and of our importance and value. (Which is exactly where I am in this moment, incidentally. My birthday is next month and I am full on in her vice grip these days, I tell ya. But I’ve also been studying her quite intensively in many areas of my life since I turned 40.)

I’d like to summarize the four phases of the moon.

This summary is within my understanding and my tradition so we’re all on the same page. You may have a different understanding: vive la difference.

New moon: when we plant the seeds of intention, it’s for ideation and dreaming

Full Moon: give that intention form, develop our plan of action and initiate, we launch, we go live

Waning moon: we are living live out that intention in form

Dark moon: after form has served its purpose, it’s time to let go and break up the old form.

The last period of any major cycle is the Dark Moon phase when the Dark Woman energy is most powerful.

You already know the Dark Woman very well.

You meet her every winter when you’re depressed for no particular reason. You met her that time when you got deathly ill. You met her when that person, your person, died. You met her when the last child left home. You met her when you declared bankruptcy. You met her when you packed up his shit and had it all delivered to his parents. You met her when you quit drinking. You met her when you quit that shitty job. You met her when you stayed at that job and kept speaking up and kept fucking with their shit until things changed and nobody recognized that place anymore.

When she came to you and you finally let her make you over, you. were. luminous.

You were a force of nature.

And in so many ways at your best and with so much to be proud of.

But now you say, Oh that’s in the past, so now when she comes to you your hospitality disappears.

But now she comes to you, and says, There’s more work to do, and you say, Sorry, I’m busy.

And now she comes to you, and maybe she’s working through another woman who’s taking up space and doing her thing her way and you cut her down, verbally, energetically. You withdraw from her, cut her out, leave her hanging out there.

Hm.

Well.

In my observation, the Dark Woman has two things to say about that.

In the first case: Grow up. As if you can just say to the Dark Woman, Oh, I’m busy — this really isn’t a good time. It’s not a great fit for me right now. I’m doing something, er, more important.

She has come for you.

Are you ready or not?

You better say, Ready.

In the second case: If she shows up in someone else whose way of being is intimidating you, irritating you, triggering you, remember she is you. You are seeing the Dark Side of Your Own Moon and that woman is living it out for you.

When you’re in your own Dark Moon Phase, what would you like? A little understanding? Cut a little slack? Little more room for imperfection?

Wouldn’t it be great if we actually did assume the best of each other and celebrate the gifts of difference, and disharmony, and discomfort?

What might happen in ourselves and our world

if we follow the Dark Woman’s lead

if we place a higher value on the virtues of the shadow,

if we reclaim and empower the dark parts of ourselves?

I tell you what would happen: we’d get important shit done.

Why is the Dark Woman so feared and so denied?

Well, I have some ideas.

One reason is because she is animated by Grief and Rage.

But in her version of the story Grief and Rage are featured as two powerful forms of Love.

Grief to her means, I am utterly devastated by the loss of something I love.

Rage to her means, I am utterly unwilling to abide another fucking violation against something I love.

So we’re afraid because we know that when the Dark Woman sweeps in, to help us see in the dark and illuminate what’s real, there’s a good chance we’re going to be completely disillusioned with our life and the world.

And then what?

Well, I tell you what: hopefully that’s when Grief in her mercy will bring a river of tears help wash away the old forms causing your grief. This is when we get to sink into a kind of salty celebration.

Because, as Martin Prechtel says, Grief is a form of praise — when we grieve we give energy to what we love, it’s like singing a hymn to our beloved.

And because, as Naomi Shihab Nye says in her poem,

Before you can know kindness as the deepest thing inside

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

And then after grief, hopefully, comes fury which we’re afraid for so many reasons not the least of which is that we’ve never learned how to do rage.

Notice I’m talking talking about run-of-the-mill anger here.

Simple anger is on the fear end of the spectrum. But we’re on the Love end of the spectrum, right out there at the passionate edge.

And we know how to do love, right?

We know how intense passion can be, right?

We’re okay with losing our minds in the name of love, right?

So has your tender heart been broken by things you’ve seen in this world?

Has your love for this world been offended by its destruction?

Has your spirit been crushed by a heartless enforcer of some fucking system you can no longer abide?

Then you are a warrior. Then you are a soldier of love. Then fuck this shit. And #sorrynotsorry.

Sometimes rage is the only humane response.

Fury can be fuel when we ask ourselves, What lies at the farthest reaches of our human aspiration?

In the long dark night, with nothing left to lose, we can begin to prepare for that; we can begin to condition the soil for the seed of that dream because remember that after the Dark Moon time comes the New Moon phase of the cycle.

I know some of you are still super uncomfortable about Rage.

And some of you are uncomfortable with this notion of a loud, demanding, judgemental and sometimes hostile Goddess wreaking havoc in our lives, tearing at our social fabric, causing disharmony and making people feel bad. I know.

You know where I see a similar reaction come up a lot?

In discussions about racism.

You’ve seen it on Facebook when somebody very directly calls out racism and white supremacy, especially if the target is like a “nice, well-intentioned liberal white person”.

If you haven’t noticed this, watch for it: progressive liberal people will jump in and fight for the right to racial comfort and insist on “respectful and polite dialogue”.

They’ll put in so much time and energy and words — god so many words — to argue for that right to maintain their emotional comfort in discussions about race.

They’ll say stuff like, Calling out only alienates people. Shaming shuts down conversation and turns white people off so you’re not succeeding in eliminating racism. You need to “call in” and “meet people where they’re at” and “educate” and “bring them along a ladder of awareness to a place of higher consciousness.

Which all sounds good, right?

But, remember your own subconscious mind. Think about your own life.

Have you ever held a deep, unconscious belief that required a complete transformation that didn’t involve a measure of pain and discomfort?

Or have your profound transformations always been super respectful and polite?

Honestly, was more education really adequate for you to make the transformation required?

Did you just hear one day, Of course you’re loveable. Here are all your loveable qualities…, and your self-esteem just laddered right on up to higher consciousness?

No, of course not.

It was emotionally taxing. You spun your wheels. You thought people were know-it-all assholes.

You needed a whole bunch of experiences — some gentle and opening, and some fucking excruciating and humiliating.

So, those progressives demanding to be comfortable in the most fraught social discourse are right: calling out doesn’t work on its own. Just as peaceful protest and civil dialogue and education don’t work on their own.

We’ve been raising consciousness about racism and oppression for how long now?

The reality is, there is no one strategy that works, we need them all.

What is required for true and deep transformation is a broad spectrum of approach that straddles the both peace and pain.

And yes, there are other times when gentle energies are appropriate.

But the Dark Woman is not here for your bullshit.

If we don’t learn how to embrace and embody the gifts of the Dark, we are destined — or cursed — to project it all over others.

Now, there is a historical reason we fear the Dark Woman, and it’s related to the same reasons we fear dark nights, dark places, even people that are darker than we are…

This starts around 7000–3000 BCE, in the area of the fertile crescent, which includes Greece and Turkey but also swings all the way across and down through Lebanon, Syria, all the way down to Egypt, in the transition time between the agrarian matristic cultures and the tribal patriarchal societies.

Now, when I say “matristic” I don’t mean “goddess worshipping”. I’m using that word in basically an ethnographic sense which means it’s a roughly egalitarian society where women are active in pubic life alongside their brothers.

When I say patriarchy, I am not talking about “men”. I’m talking about inter-locking social-political systems that say masculinity and males are inherently dominating, hold them up as superior and endowed with a right to rule, and enforce this through violence, both physical and psychological.

But as bell hooks says, patriarchy has no gender and is enforced, policed and normalized by both men and women.

In fact, when I use the word “patriarchy”, I’m using it the way hooks uses it, that is to describe “imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy”. That’s what I’m talking about.

This era was a time of lunar worship and of primary female deities.

There were male gods, too. But what humans would have observed up to that point would have been that women could shed their blood every month and not die — pretty magical — and they could randomly bring forth more humans, and not only could they replicate themselves but they could create male humans as well — quite miraculous.

There’s just no question that to the ancient mind, females were completely identified with the Great Mystery and magic. And the parallels between females, the fertility cycles of the earth and the reliable return of the moon were undeniable.

So at this time, women held powerful positions in society including roles as teachers, priestesses, oracles, medicine healers and midwives of both birth and death,

The Dark Goddess was admired, respected and beloved.

She was a comforting presence during times of great importance because she was knowledgable and experienced.

But what happens in this time period are several waves of invasions by warrior tribes from Northern Europe and the Central Asian steppe, who worshipped solar gods. These were not agrarian people with concern for the fertility cycles of life.

Their gods were thunder-hurlers. They believed in linear time as opposed to cyclical time. They didn’t believe in regeneration and rebirth, so there was no need to be guided from this life into the next.

They believed that after death there was either punishment or reward, and it was pretty tricky to be a member of war-mongering society and still live purely enough to earn reward.

And so the dark moon phase of our lives, the time of ageing and elderhood, became seen as the beginning of the end after which, upon death, you had a pretty high chance of everlasting pain and suffering.

Which is one reason why nowadays in this culture, the farther we drift away from youth and beauty, the less anyone wants to do with us miserable reminders of everlasting pain and suffering.

It’s also surmised that around this time, because women would spend so much time with the breeding cattle and livestock, they began to understand the link between mating and birth. Prior to that, it was not obvious at all that men had anything to do with this mystery at all, so women had special status.

But with that mystery solved, coupled with the invasion of the solar gods, it meant the demise of the status of women. And also the diminishment of the perceived sacredness and spiritual power of women, of the earth and of death.

And so the Dark Woman was exiled, banished to the shadow of society.

And as Jung points out, whatever is banished to the shadow becomes repressed and distorted.

Take, for example, the Dark Woman’s sexuality.

During the matristic period, it was totally common to go to the temple to receive sacred sexual rites from the priestesses who were revered as handmaidens of the Dark Goddess.

But under the new regime, this sacred sexuality which had been understood as having magical, healing, spiritual power, became demonized. So woman’s sexuality became offensive, an insult to power for which she could be shamed and persecuted, and rape became a weapon of oppression.

And so the Dark Goddesses are distorted into malefic characters and the other lunar goddesses are basically married off or enslaved to the invading gods. This is why Zeus has so many wives. And this is also why so many of them, like his primary wife Hera, retain a bitter, rebellious quality — because they once were queens and they refuse to submit.

So we can see the impacts of this major transition all around us today, but I’d like to restate that this isn’t simply the result of “men” — notice how many systems are interwoven here from religion, to civics, to geopolitics.

And notice how today men also suffer different impacts under patriarchy not the least of which is the withholding of the mysteries of the Dark Goddess and the shame, ridicule, rejection and exclusion they reap when attempting to know her.

What is purpose of the Dark Woman in our lives today?

The Dark Woman helps us to remember ourselves.

Sometimes through discovery, sometimes through recovery. Either way, she re-animates our original nature.

She represents a sense of embededness in nature and in the cosmos, a sense of belonging to our own sacredness.

She reminds us of immanence (the divine indwelling in the nature world) including ourselves.

This is why her motto is “I come from myself”, because she is one-in-herself.

Her gifts are vision, divination, active sexuality, release, redemption, regeneration and ardent devotion to one’s own spiritual path.

She helps us be with ourselves when we are hurting, and be with others when they are hurting.

In our spiritual practice, she helps us learn to be comfortable with ambiguity and “otherness” in the sense of getting to know the “other-than-human” realms.

But I believe that even more importantly, she helps us learn to be comfortable in the presence of social “otherness”.

In other words: she helps us become comfortable in our own skin so we can be comfortable with other people’s skin.

And she has this exciting outlaw aspect to her that’s entirely unfettered by “good girl” restraint.

Personally, I admire her because she has learned to integrate and assert all parts of herself.

She takes initiative to make change, at a minimum, and calls revolution if necessary.

So how is it that she’s so unconcerned by what others think, you might ask?

How is it that she is so unburdened by a sense of self-preservation?

You might be thinking, Well that’s okay for some people but I can’t do that.

Yes, you can, and I’ll tell you how.

Because she is so devoted to very specific values she knows to be bigger than her, beyond her, and eternal, the Dark Woman can move through the world like she’s simultaneously got no fucks and all the fucks.

She can afford to be impersonal and not always merciful in carrying out her will, because what she really values, above all things, are:

Truth. Freedom. Justice. Healing.

Truth

Not only does the Dark Woman have an insatiable need to know the truth, she is uncompromising in her truthfulness. Which one the one hand makes it super uncomfortable during holidays with the family, but on the other hand it means you can trust her. And her kind of Truth means more than just keeping people’s secrets and never telling a lie, it also means she is sincere, especially in her deep desire to be of help and contribution.

So much so, her Truth pulls up alongside her Grief and Rage, and she’s wise enough to ask, How am I contributing to the problem that upsets me?

Freedom

Well, the Dark Woman has a frank disregard for the opinions of others; she really doesn’t give a shit what you think of her, and what could be freer than that?

More importantly, because she is so clear on her values, she is free to fuck up. She gives herself permission to take action even if she doesn’t know what she’s doing, even if she knows she’s not the best, because fucking up will not stop her. She is completely committed to learning and doing better and getting good shit done.

Therefore, she diligently practices two miraculously liberating skills:

The first is she knows how to apologize, really well, with sincerity and humility.

The second is she knows when to apologize, and when she is being used as a stand-in for someone’s unresolved issues.

Now, I know what you’re wondering: how does she know that? How does she discern?

There’s no formula for that but here’s a hint: she studies. She studies human behaviour, she studies love, she studies pain, privilege, intersectionality, oppression, reconciliation, communication, she studies all the things. She just figures it the fuck out, to the best of her ability.

Because she is at home in the underworld, the Dark Woman investigates root causes to unearth the Truth.

Justice

The Dark Woman has a cellular-level inability to passively witness violation, of any sort.

Now, that doesn’t mean she’s always running off vigilante style into dangerous situations. But often, it does mean she’s running off her mouth.

She throws shade like The Wrathful Dakinis — those colourful, untamed wild woman characters of Tibetan Buddhism.

But again, I’m referencing their even earlier incarnations, the ones that pre-date organized religion.

In even earlier times, they were half woman, half animal, and their role was to metabolize poison. They would dance and feast on the painful negativity of their own and the community in order to transform it. They take the poison of rage and cook it down into the tonic of wrath which is fierce protection of life. They are not unruly demons, they are servants and protectors of the community.

They are famous confronters of tyranny. Caroline Casey told me a legend of them sitting at the back of the room of a important spiritual teacher’s lecture and they’re laughing and weeping and generally cause a ruckus. And the very important spiritual teacher stops and says, Why are you laughing and weeping at my lecture?

And they say, We’re laughing because you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about and we’re weeping that anyone might listen to you in the first place!

And they’re so truthful and so liberated that even the arrogant spiritual teacher recognizes their wisdom, and says, You’re right! I’m a fraud and I want to be free instead — show me how!

Healing

The etymology of the word to heal is “to make whole”.

It doesn’t mean “to make perfect”.

It means to pick up the pieces and glue them back together again.

And this is where an empowering Dark Goddess from India can be instructive: Akhilanda — Her name means: She Who Is Never Not Broken. So basically she’s the “Always Broken Goddess”.

She is the one who says that when you are shattered, you have a shining moment of choice. A choice to be remade differently next time. You’ll still be the sum of a million bits of shrapnel, but you get to choose how you come back to yourself.

The Dark Woman is not afraid to love the whole horror and brilliance of experience; she loves disharmony so hard it finds its way back into harmony.

She does whatever she can and whatever she has to in order to authenticate, regenerate and nurture an honest, free and just world.

I was working with a client just this week and he said, Okay everything you’re saying about these virtues is so resonating with me and I have totally been in this dark moon phase for the past year. But — how do I do them while I’m in the dark?

Here’s my advice: Pick the one that resonates least and study that, because that’s your blind spot.

That’s what you need to learn to see in the dark.

Then you’ve got to summon the courage to relinquish the anaesthetics of privilege and productivity and anything else you’ve used to keep you safe.

You’ve got to shore up a surplus of self-love to handle the slings and arrows from your own people as they take aim and project their fear onto you.

You’ve got to open yourself up to kinship in unfamiliar quarters because I can tell you from experience conviction is fucking lonely.

You know what helps? Love helps. Sisterhood helps.

But know this: the people around you now may not be able to go the distance with you.

They may not be equipped to run your marathon. But that’s okay.

It may be more like a relay race, where you lead them to their upper limit and then they spin out and that’s okay because there’s always new people coming in to rally with you…Trust me.

Do not believe the stories about strangers unless they are the very old stories about opening up to the beautiful mysteries of otherness.

If you start from a deep place of substance, I’ve found there are always new friends waiting to meet you there.

So be vulnerable. Be willing to feel unsafe. Open yourself up to kinship in unfamiliar quarters because there are lonely, desolate, tired, people waiting there for you.

I was watching an excellent interview with Gloria Steinem (in conversation with bell hooks) and she said the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship, the time she is most likely to die, is right before or right after she leaves, because she’s escaping control.

Right now in our history, we are coming to a critical and dangerous time in our work to dismantle worn out forms. But we must reclaim and favour the dark moon phase in both our personal and cultural cycles. There will be a backlash against change and we should be wise, but cannot stop.

Because we can all feel it. It’s time.

And the mystic in me loves how that feeling is corroborated by astrologers.

Astrology is a wonderful tool to perceive synchronicity.

Perceiving synchronicity helps us unite the outer world of phenomena with the inner world of meaning. In that unity we more easily move towards “individuation” which is the urge of our psyche to move towards integration and wholeness — which, remember, is the Dark woman’s jam.

Astrologers have noticed a 26,000 year cycle (Platonic Year). You’ve heard terms like “The Age of Aquarius”. That’s just one period within this larger 26,000 year cycle.

And “coincidentally”, if we take the model of a moon phase cycle and place its start at 23,000 BCE — some of the earliest evidence of the age of the Goddess and here we are today in 2016 — that’s a span of 25,000 years.

So it makes sense that for the past several thousands years of patriarchal rule, we’ve been in the withdrawn, confused, difficult dark moon phase of the Goddess.

Which would mean, on a cosmic level, that we’re almost out of that cycle.

We are emerging. And now, it’s on.

It’s time.

It’s time to recover our stolen stories. We’ll still be living with a mismatched cultural myth for a while, but we don’t need to be so deeply involved in it anymore.

It’s time to be generous and amplify women who claim power, even if they aren’t perfect at it.

It’s time to learn to hold our centre and notice when we’re projecting.

Notice when we’re equating decisiveness in a woman with being power hungry.

Notice when we’re confusing being assertive with being unkind.

And especially to notice how we’ve been groomed to turn away from discomfort and shrink from our soul-level responsibility to fight for a cause even if it is not our own.

Marije Giumbutas herself, the inspiration for this whole speech and an amazingly accomplished linguist, ethnographer and archeologist, was targeted and discredited at the end of an illustrious career, on her death bed, with a pile-on backlash that subsequently led to her erasure from academia where she once had been preeminent — she herself predicted right before she died in the mid 1990s that it would take 35 years before her work would be restored, and her observations, insights and conclusions to become accepted by the field.

We’re about halfway to acceptance by her timeline, and I look around at our culture today and I see young girls who know what the word “feminism” and “consent” mean before they even enter their teens.

I see young women changing the tone and topic of public discourse, from academia to social media.

I see women and men working together to dismantle misogyny.

I see alliances of nations standing up against governments to protect water and the earth.

I see children taking a knee before their football games to protest police brutality and racial injustice.

I see every day people laughing and weeping at this fucking world, and lighting their torches to light the way for the Underworld, and asking us to follow them on this gruelling descent.

And I think that the Dark Woman knowingness inside Giumbutas as she dyingwas probably bang-on in her prediction.

No doubt, the Dark Woman isn’t going to wait for us much longer. She is calling us.

Because there comes a time for Kali.

Without her, we won’t leave the abusive relationship.

There comes a time for Persephone, because without her we won’t know how to help our parents or partners die well.

Without Demeter, we can’t prepare our children adequately to leave us.

Without Durga, we condemn our daughters to the control of the male gaze.

Without the Wrathful Dakinis, power runs amok.

I suggest you unleash the Dark Woman and celebrate her glory as a wise guide and teacher, as an exciting agitator, and as a redeeming force in your life.

She wants you to know the extent of your reach.

She wants to liberate you with her knowledge and comfort you with her experience.

She wants to love you so hard and bring a delightfulness of being to the darkness of your life.

She is your strength, your ally, and your champion.

**

I’d like to leave you with this short poem, that I think speaks to the charm of the Dark Woman.

It’s by Hafiz but the translation comes to me from Caroline Casey:

The small man

builds prisons for everyone he meets

but the wise woman

ducks under the moon

and tosses keys to all the beautiful and rowdy prisoners.

***

With thanks to Tryskelion for additional information on the Myth of Demeter and Persephone.