Welcome to Transformative Healing Dolls BLOG
More or less monthly posts about Transformative Healing Dolls
A bit of a rambling ode to green....
Green is the heart, is F#... is the life force...
Recently, I had the luck to visit a friend who is a gifted energy healer. She demonstrated to me how our chakras, (the energy centers that go up and down our body) are related not only to colors but also to musical notes and to corresponding healing sounds. It was fun to play with the tuning forks she had for each chakra, and to make the sounds associated with each.
I remembered that I had been told by another energy healer, Donna Eden, that my "life colors" are salmon and grass green. So it was interesting to learn that the colors associated with the "high heart" (an additional chakra that my friend told me about and that I had never heard of) were green or pink. My life colors! And the note associated with this chakra was F # and the sound, "Ahhhhm," if I remembered that correctly.
Baby's Dream (The Green Bird), gouache and water-based crayon, 18 x 24, 2020
It just made sense to me, because I feel very connected to the heart chakra, and I have always been drawn to green as a representation of life force.
Green and Grey
I've been posting stories about previous participants in the Befriending Our Shadow course. Today I am taking a break from that series to share some of stories about green, the life force, in contrast to grey, which to me symbolizes the opposite of aliveness, numbness. But no more grey today. Today is all about green!
I have always loved the line from the Dylan Thomas poem, "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower," which it turns out is also the title of the poem. He ultimately is making a very different point in his poem, but to me, it is that line that stands out.
Ceri Richards, The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower, lithograph on paper, 1965 (this really looks upside down to me but it is how it shows up on the Tate Modern website)
What Hildegarde von Bingen has to say about green
I've written about Hildegarde von Bingen here before. She is one of my heroes. In this earlier post, I said of von Bingen:
"I’m reminded too of Hildegarde of Bingen, a mystic who lived at the turn of the first millennium, in a time that in some ways was much like ours. Her joyful vision of life centered on the idea that to be awake is to be “filled with greenness.” To her, every being on earth, not just humans, could potentially be filled with a spark of life, “for no creature exists that lacks a radiance, be it greenness or seed, buds or beauty…otherwise it would not be a creation at all.” (p. 67 Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen.) Each element of our living earth is a potential portal into aliveness and gives us an opportunity to experience our fullness and divinity."
Cultivating the Cosmic Tree, Hildegarde von Bingen.
Green is Aphrodite's color...
I have been absorbing the stories and wisdom of Donald Kalshed in his latest book, Trauma and the Soul. In one of the many moving chapters, he talks of a woman who had been severely traumatized but it was through her inner world of archetypal images that she was able to be healed. These showed up in dreams and in stories. In one of her dreams, (pp. 222 and 223 in the book) she describes a cold, dying world in which everything is grey and soulless, except for a tiny bear cub wrapped in a slimy blanket. The blanket disgusts the dreamer, especially when she realizes it too is alive.
She is moved to take both and the cub back with her to a more inhabitable world. But first she is asked by an "emissary" hidden behind a wall, if he could hold the blanket creature "..one more time. I am achingly moved... The emissary tells me to step close to the wall, a smooth metallic surface in which there is a round opening. I step forward, and a bright green tentacle comes out and waves around searching for contact. "
She is horrified but lets the tentacle hold the blanket and the cub, realizing that the emissary is a green monster and that is why he is hidden.
Kalshed goes on to say that the greenness of the tentacle is a sign of hope, "the only hardy life-form in this grey world. He quotes Jung saying "green is Aphrodite's color... and older still, the color of Osiris, the reborn Egyptian god. Green is also the color of Sophia and the Holy Ghost, the color of life, procreation and resurrection. Greenness also connotes the benedicta veriditas, the 'blessed greenness'...the secret immanence of the divine spirit of life in all things...Green signifies hope and the future.
Green is hopeful. especially in the midst of a grey world. Below I share the greenness in some of my paintings and dolls. Some of them are monsters and yet, from Kalshed's (and Jung's) perspective, and mine, green is aliveness! Greenness is wholeness. And that is what I seek in my journey into the shadow and in leading others in shadow work.
Below, a celebration of green in my art, dolls and paintings
"The Wheel" tarot card from the Druid Craft Tarot deck. The message is, "You can see the patterns in your life and the wider patterns in the circles of Birth, Life, Death, and Rebirth. Harvesting the seeds of destiny, you continue to sow seeds of love.
A memorable dream of circles and squares…
Recently, I had one of those memorable dreams. I want to try to share it and I will do my best. But please forgive me, like all dreams, there is so much lost in trying to put something like this into words. The dream felt like a working out of some deep questions that I didn’t really understand. It seemed to address some of the big questions I think about in my life, including how to navigate a world of challenges, deadlines and tasks, while at the same time keeping roots in the spiritual world that lives beneath all things.
In the dream I have the sense of the four directions. People are grouped according to each of the four directions. They are experiencing some sort of challenge involving different levels of experience. They are “singing their way around the four directions.” The dream takes place in the forest (and at the same time, in a subway car!)
The first person in line for each of the four directions achieves something. One man “achieves a square” and gets the message that the next level is open to him. There is great joy and connection along with this accomplishment. I feel like I am quite close to this next level but not yet there. I get information for signing up for the next level. One of the others gets the same message as me and the last person gets a less clear answer.
It is obvious to me though, from another perspective, that at a higher level, none of this means anything. And that in addition to this “square” way of being, there is also a “circle” way and that in this circle way, surrender is key. The circle way is open to all. It’s paradoxical. Surrender is the circle and this surrender is another, equally valid way of making it “up” the square.
Summer of 2011, Sackets Harbor, NY, this story and the wheel tarot card reminded me of the summer I made this labyrinth by Lake Ontario. Another reminder of the circles/cycles of the seasons.
Looking at dreams in a new way
I woke up from this dream with a strong feeling of contentment. In the Hagitude, year-long course I am taking, we are looking at dreams in a way that feels very familiar to me, from my past experience as an art therapist. Instead of trying to analyze and put meaning into the dream, we try to experience it as it is, taking in the symbols and metaphors as living beings. Just as, when I was an art therapist, we tried to help our clients or patients live into the meaning of their art work.
Living in a Circle or Square Way
Since this dream, I have been musing on this idea of living in a circle or square way, along with the idea that either way is just as legitimate as a way of being/living. Maybe you can relate to this too? I’ve talked in other newsletters here about my fascination with different ways of tracking time. One the one side, the square (or rectangular) calendar with its neatly organizing time into days, weeks, months, years-so essential for getting things done, achieving goals, remembering dentist appointments.
The Circles/Cycles of the Season
On the other, the circles/cycles of the seasons, where goals and achievements have less relevance. In the circle way, repetition is key, seasons reoccur, stories are told and retold, gaining meaning and depth with each repetition. All harkening back to the central stories that our ancestors would have told, to give meaning to the seasons-the old Goddess/crone of winter dying in the spring and the young Goddess/maiden of spring taking her place. The birth of the young god of winter, growing into manhood, and his union with the maiden in summer and then his being sacrificed in the fall, as the fullness of the harvest is reaped. Over and over again.
In Mother Nature's Gaze, watercolor crayons and mixed media
Our Collective Stories
We are drawn to these stories, even if we don’t tell them, because they are in our, what psychologist and mythologist (is that a word?) Carl Gustav Jung, called our collective unconscious. In the midst of our rushing from medical appointments to work to social events, our lives feel more deeply meaningful when we are able to listen to, even in the slightest way, those deep bass notes of archetypal meaning. By this I mean, our daily, surface stories, resonate at all times with the deepest stories, outside of time, running beneath ours.
The Web of Life that Connects us All
We live within the circle that is the web of life, connecting us to each other, living and dead and there is no distinction between someone who has lived a life of great achievement and someone who perhaps has led a quieter, less “consequential” life. And we are connected in a way that transcends time, as in the words of Donald Kalsched in his new book, Trauma and the Soul: A Psychospiritual approach to Human Development and its Interruption, “there might be a dimension of consciousness that transcends time and space and includes the pooled memories of our ancestors.” (pg. 37) We can tap into these dimensions at any time, but it is the “circle” time that seems to make this connection easier. And in the tapping into deeper meaning, we are at the same time sending down deep roots into our “square” lives, paradoxically making it easier to function in our day-to-day lives.
Sanctuary: Take Comfort Now, collage, watercolor crayons, watercolor pencils, revisiting from blog post, January, 2023
Man in Kukeri costume meant to scare away evil. from Suitcase magazine article, Kukeri: The Forgotten Rituals of Bulgaria
In a recent conversation with a fellow artist, she mentioned something about using her art to deal with the overwhelm that comes up sometimes, when we are faced with the real evil that is in this world. This set off a whole series of thoughts and conversations that I had with other artists and creatives. How do we hold or contain the evil of the world that is really there? Is this a ridiculous goal? Can we use our art to contain it-even just a little bit?
If you don’t know this already, I often use my art to tend to my inner demons…
I can’t speak for my artist friend about what she meant by using her art to cope with evil, but I know that I turn to my art when I am overwhelmed by the dark forces in the world. If you take even the slightest look at my work, here on the gallery page, (Transformative Healing Dolls), or even more here, on my new website in progress (erikaclevelandart.com), that includes my more recent intuitive paintings, you have probably figured this out. In my art, I am often trying to work out a way to deal with inner demons, but what I am talking about here are those outer demons. In reality it is probably unrealistic to try to separate inner and outer demons-they are closely related, as I will explore here.
Everything is Just Fine: Nothing to See, an image from my Sketches in Uncertain Times Journal on my website erikaclevelandart.com
The shadow and evil
The question of evil is a huge topic, the topic for a whole book, probably, that maybe I will write someday. In the meantime, another creative friend, a writer, directed me to the book, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales, by Mary Louise von Franz, a Jungian psychologist. Knowing my interest in the shadow, those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that this book was right up my alley. After all, I have been offering a course called Befriending the Shadow over the past three years. I am diving into von Franz’s book slowly because there is a lot of richness there. And, again, it is a huge topic.
Why “living in the light” isn’t always the best goal if we neglect the shadow
Evil isn’t all that popular a topic at the moment in spiritual or “New Age” circles. There are whole communities that try to base their whole reason for being on, “living in the light.” This is a noble and understandable goal. However, the intention to live in the light can unwittingly lead to the opposite effect that what is intended. It makes me think of Carl Jung’s words, “what we resist, persists.” ie: whenever we push against something, and try to hide it in the shadows, it tends to show up even more strongly somewhere else.
It also reminds me of what one of my mentors, shamanic healer, Sandra Ingerman says about her workshops such as “Healing with Spiritual Light.” (These workshops are amazing.) Sandra always says we have to watch for the shadow in workshops that focus on light. Because from her long years of experience she knows you can’t work with the light without also acknowledging the dark. She talks about how things would go haywire halfway through the workshop when, in the earlier days of her offering this workshop, she didn’t set aside time and space for the shadow. Though it might feel uncomfortable to make room for (and have to think about) the shadow, it is worth the discomfort and extra effort.
I'm still afraid, take it one step at a time, image from my Altered Book: Depression and Modern Times, erikaclevelandart,com
Why evil can’t be pinned down in fairy tales (or anywhere else)
So, back to von Franz’s book. Von Franz explores the meaning of evil and also looks at how we can work with evil and find ways to cope with it. One important discovery she made in looking at evil in fairy tales was that there are no formulas or rules to deal with evil. The author found out that the only constant in dealing with evil is inconsistency. It is actually quite funny, she discovers, how inconsistent the “advice” and conclusions are in fairy tales with regard to evil. For instance, one tale recommends, if an evil character has a secret, you must always face it head on and ask for the answer. Then the next tale says, avoid secrets at all costs, if you know what is best for you. And so on…
Always listen to the animal guide
The only consistent advice was, always listen to the animal guide, or the nature guide, the helper that is encountered along the way, even if it is giving contradictory advice. What does this mean? Her conclusion was, always follow your intuition. The animal or nature guide in fairy tales is a representation of the intuitive voice. And this makes sense to me. While it is easy to follow our intuition when our intuition matches the outer world, it is much more difficulty to follow when that intuitive voice seems to go against common sense.
All will be Decided, There will be Joy and there will be Sorrow, image from Altered Book: Depression and Modern art, erikaclevelandart.com
Formulas and doctrines don’t work
And this is what is needed most in dealing with evil in the world. Because formulas and “doctrines” don’t work in the real world, however good they sound in writing. When we are living our lives and facing challenges, especially the dangers that true evil can present, we have to stay on our toes and react in an awake and alive way to what is happening in the moment.
It seems to me that as soon as a doctrine is created, in terms of light and dark, right and wrong etc, it immediately ossifies into stone and becomes useless as advice. And this is especially true when it has to do with the behavior of others (this is another insight from von Franz). We can sort of/kind of make rules for ourselves and try to follow them, but once we try to apply those to others, especially groups of people, that is a formula for evil.
Why I do what I do
I suppose that is why I do the work I do, as inept and halting as it is. I am trying, on a very small scale to tune into my inner guidance and intuition, allowing my art, my dolls and my paintings to speak to me. The goal is for this to remain a living process, always changing and evolving as I change and evolve, and as the world changes and evolves. This means following a winding and ever-changing path along a seashore where the waves are constantly coming in and washing out my footsteps. Sometimes fog comes in and I can’t see even a step ahead and I have to slow way down. That is when I have to listen even more deeply.
That is why I am drawn also to flip dolls, two-sided dolls, connected at the waist and with heads on both sides. They remind me of one of my favorite symbols, the infinity sign (which also looks like my favorite number, eight, sideways.) These dolls and the infinity sign contain opposites, leaving room to pivot at any moment. This kind of art is my attempt to deal with life as an ever-shifting and changing canvas, day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment.
Nuclear Light, side two, The Living Earth flip doll, from erikaclevelandart.com
Art speaks the language of moment-to-moment
I am going to make a bold statement now and say that art speaks this language of moment to moment, whether it is doll-making, painting, writing or whatever. And I’m going to make an even bolder statement to say that evil doesn’t speak this language. Evil isn’t flexible. It is what shows up when we get set in stone, whether in our views or in our actions. It is not that light is good and dark is bad or vice versa. It is that we need to find a way to create space for opposites to shift and change. And that is a dilemma when we live in this world of humanness, flaws and evil. It is our nature to at each moment to try to grasp onto what is certain and true, rather than to trust in the uncertainty of life. I feel like I am one of the worst offenders at wanting to “figure things out” and find certainties in life, so I think I can speak about this with authority. Do you use your art, whether it is art, writing, creating a garden or whatever it is, as a way to cope with evil, those unavoidable and painful realities of life? I would be curious to hear your thoughts.
NOTE: after I wrote this I came across an article in the New Yorker about an ancient Bulgarian ritual to fight against evil that seemed to fit with this topic. It also includes a video of this ritual in action. The image at the top of this page also shows this Kukeri costume. The ways in which evil is described in this article fits with my observations as well. Evil isn't fantastical or wildly different from daily life. Instead it lives in mundanities like poverty or hunger.
Page from the calendar of the Très Riches Heures showing the household of John, Duke of Berryexchanging New Year gifts. The Duke is seated at the right, in blue.
That sense of timelessness we get while staring up at the clouds...
You know that deeper sense of time that you can get from nature, if you have ever lain out on the grass and looked up at the clouds in the sky, noticing the ways in which they shift from moment to moment, looking first like a bunny and then shifting into a dinosaur? Or when you have your hands in the ground, digging in the dirt, planting seeds or tending a garden? You can completely lose track of “real” time, as you let go of the need to get to a Zoom call or call the dentist. Five minutes lost in wonderment, listening to owls calling each other from one tree to another, or in contemplating the brightness of green leaves against a blue sky can take you out of time. Breathing slows down, the mind’s chatter goes away. You experience a sense of expansion-and freedom. These moments are so very important for our sanity and well-being.
February, attributed to Paul Limbourg, or the "Rustic painter"
What have we lost in our urgency to "mange" time?
Recently I read an article in the NYTimes, Searching for Lost Time in the World’s Most Beautiful Calendar, about a beautiful 15th century calendar, the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, that encapsulated the two different ways we keep track of time, capturing both the seasonal shifts over time and yet, measuring time in a way that lets us be able to make plans, schedule events and stay in touch with each other.
One of the main points of the article, along with beautiful images of richly illustrated calendars from many different cultures, was that we, in our urgency to be able to “manage” time, have lost the connection to another, deeper sense of time that has always been there and would continue to be there long after we as humans are gone. By that I mean, a sense of connection to the subtle shifts of the seasons, tracked in the world of nature all around us. We have, as a human race, worked so hard to be as efficient as we now are, so why would it matter that we lost track of our ancestor’s way of tracking time? We know instinctively though, that it does matter.
A couple of pages from a series of illustrations I did as part of my own other-worldly series called Kalili's Journey, some day I will get this into a shape that you can see the whole thing. You can see how my work is inspired by calendars like the Très Riches Heures
Magic, and children already know about this...
If you, like me, read books like the Narnia series, stories where the four main characters visited alternate worlds by stepping into a wardrobe, you might have vicariously experienced this suspension of time. Often in the magical worlds of books like this, the characters discover that though they may have lived a whole lifetime in the alternate universe, when they return to our world, no time has passed. Or it could be the opposite, like the Rip van Winkle story, where a man goes to another universe for what he experiences as a short time, but returns to our world, having missed several generations of living. Books like this can take us back to an expansive time, that we know in our bodies. Children know how to do this instinctively. I remember this from my childhood but if you haven't thought about this in a while, you may need to give yourself the chance to recollect yours.
It is useful and essential to have ways of tracking our days and minutes with the kinds of calendars we run our lives by. And yet, if we forget to tune into timelessness at least once in a while, we lose a very important part of ourselves. A part that brings us bone-deep and absolutely essential nourishment. A part that reminds us that we are not machines, that we are all connected to source, whatever we might want to call that, nature, spirit, oneness. And a part that reminds us that we are connected inextricably with the web of life, to every other living thing.
I've been at this a while. This is a 2014 calendar where I experimented with alternative ways of tracking the days, while also tracking joy.
Let's not make this into a critique of all that is wrong with our modern day world...
This could so easily get into a critique of all that is wrong with our modern-day world and that is not what I am meaning to do here. It's just that I wanted to share with you a delightful (and easy) way to reclaim something that you have always known but that can so easily forget in a day-to-day existence where the claims on our attention can feel so urgent and essential.
What you might find is that the rewards are great, even if you spend even 15 minutes out of your day in this different sense of time. It could be as easy as looking at a tree outside your window for five minutes out of your day. Or open up a children's book, like the Narnia series, or Alice in Wonderland, that will take you to an alternate universe. Or you can experiment with making your own calendar, tracking what is most important to you, like one I did (see above) in 2014, where I tracked what brought me joy each day. These are a few ideas.
A couple years ago I created a series of healing crone dolls. If you are interested, you can see them on my gallery page here. In these dolls, Each of the crones in this series represented a different quality and each also represent deep emotions. This doll, a larger Ukrainian crone was part of that series. Last year, I worked more on this doll, adding a base for her to stand on (my husband helped-I write more about this on my Instagram account.) But she didn't seem finished. I had come to the understanding that this doll was a Ukranian crone, but her clothes didn't look Ukrainian enough. So I decided to fix that. As usual with these types of efforts, the process took a lot longer than expected.
Before I got to embellishing my Ukrainian crone's clothing, there was another step to take care of. I realized I needed to add a supportive piece of leather for her shoulders-see second image below. When we added the rods into her legs, they pushed up into her shoulders and I was worried that they could eventually push their way up through the cloth.
And then I explored alternate cloaks for her-third image below. I never had the intention to make her exactly accurate. She isn't meant to be a replica of a Ukranian crone in real life. Instead I followed my intuition in creating her, letting her be who she wants to be.
I did do some research about Ukrainian clothing, studying about the kinds of embroidery that would be added to clothing and other decorative household items such as tablecloths or curtains. I learned that oaks, laurels, roses, stars and crosses were important symbols in Ukrainian embroidery, plants and floral designs being most common, especially in Eastern Ukraine. In Western Ukraine, geometric, nature-inspired patterns were more common. Some of the symbolic meanings were: flowers and branching leaves symbolize purity and prosperity of a family, grape clusters mean joy, oak and gulden roses symbolize feminine youth and magical beauty. Much of this symbolism had to do with weddings and fertility.
The symbolism of geometric patterns have their roots in Slavic mythology. A rhombus means fertility, stars represent the universe, triangles relate to the holy trinity and crosses are a defense against evil.
I discovered that animals and birds also had symbolic meaning in embroidery but were usually not added to clothing. Common animals and birds would be doves and roosters-often turned towards each other, symbolizing wedding union, butterflies meaning angels, and swallows representing good news. The colors of black and red symbolize wisdom and courage over generations.
I didn't find anything about foxes in Ukrainian embroidery, especially not on clothing but I felt that this doll wanted a fox-a powerful symbol of survival, shape-shifting, edges and borderlands and the ability to charm. But I did find this story of Mykyta the Fox, a wiley fox whose story is as well-recognized in Ukraine as Mother Goose would be in the U.S. In this story, Mykyta outsmarts other animals that he encounters in his travels and is able to use their strengths against them, in order to survive. In the book, Fox Mykyta, "...is the eternal rebel--irresistible, independent, and indomitable. Using only his wit and his wits, Fox Mykyta astutely uses the moral flaws of his enemies to triumph over them--Wolf's greed, Cat's thieving, Rabbit's opportunism, Bear's hypocrisy, Goat's obsequiousness and even the lust for treasure of King Lion himself; only the guileless Badger and Babye escapes Fox's cunning." (from Ukrainian Treasures Studio) I wanted my crone to have some of this creativity, strength and cunning.
Below, you can see how I initially drew the foxes onto fabric, painting them then with fabric paint and then stitching into them with colored embroidery threads. Then I cut them out and added them to her black cloth skirt. In the other images below, you can see me experimenting with various additional embellishments to the skirt, cloak and her bodice. She seems to enjoy and appreciate the process.
Below, you can see more of the work as I went along. I had ordered some embroidered fabric from Ukraine, and I added that at the end to make sleeves for her. I also looked at headdresses worn in traditional Ukrainian costumes and saw that they often had flowers, red, white and sometimes pink and also pompoms. I made both the flowers and the pompoms. The flowers I made by folding cloth circles and stitching them together and the pompoms I felted out of colored wool. I gave her a pocket on her skirt. Not sure yet what will go in the pocket. I think she is done now but I will let her sit for a while longer to see if she asks for anything else.
Dedication, a discovered family connection...
After I wrote this, I learned, at our family non-traditional Seder this year, that my husband's great grandmother (and grandfather) were Ukranian and had emigrated to the United States, to Brooklyn to escape the pogroms of that time. They were apparently married in Ukraine and then made it here after that. His great grandfather was soon killed in an accident in which he was run over by a horse-drawn wagon. I dedicate this doll to my great great grandmother in law. We don't know her name or the name of her husband.
Healing the Elderly, painting in altered book
Dreaming with Hagitude
As you might know, from reading my earlier posts or following me on Instagram, I have been taking a year-long class with Sharon Blackie, called Hagitude: Reimagining the Second Half of Life, based on her book of the same name. The course has been powerful and life-changing. Taking the course is part of the reason why I am slowing down a bit this year with my on-line offers. My focus this year is being back in the studio and doing the inner work that goes along with this year-long class. Yet, still making a few on-line offers, such as the Tending Your Inner Garden class that I will be writing about a bit more this month, as it starts at the end of April.
Reclaiming Elderhood as Women
In the Hagitude class, we are seeking as women to reclaim elderhood, taking it from the negative focus that our culture so often puts on words like hag, crone, and old. We are seeking to reclaim the power and wisdom that originally resided in those words and in the women who embodied them. I don’t like the word patriarchy either, but for better or worse, this is the word that is used to describe those forces that tried and mostly succeeded to destroy and denigrate what it means to be an older woman in our culture.
Baba Yaga/ Mother Earth doll, detail
Understanding Archetypes of Elderhood as Women
This month, we are talking about archetypes of elder women, exploring their meaning and finding our place within the various manifestations of elder woman archetypes. I wanted to share a bit of this exploration with you. First of all, what is an archetype? According to the on-line dictionary, an archetype, “is a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology.” An example would be the "mythological archetypes of good and evil."
Some of the archetypes for elder women that have come up so far in the class, and which Sharon Blackie mentions in her book, Hagitude, are:
The Creatrix: old women weaving the world (including the Fates, the Norns, Mother Hulda)
Forces of nature: guardians and protectors of the land (including the Cailleach)
Mentors (including Fairy Godmothers, and Mother Hulda again)
Tricksters and truth-tellers: holding the culture to account (including Cundrie, and other Loathly Ladies)
The Wise Woman: deep vision (including the bean feasa, such as Biddy Early)
The Dangerous Old Woman: carriers of the fire (including Baba Yaga)
Old Bone Mother, or the representation of Death (including the Bean Sí, and other harbingers of death)
There can be resistance to trying to fit ourselves into an Elderhood Archetype
Interestingly, for some women in the class, there is a feeling of resistance to limiting themselves to one or a few elder woman archetypes. And I totally understand that wish to be free, not constrained in any way, especially once having been freed of the bonds of the negative associations to women who are older. I don’t have the same problem myself in discovering which elder woman archetype I resonate with. For me it is more about sorting out which one of many I most connect with. If you have followed me on Instagram or on my website, you will probably recognize several of the above elder women.
Me in my former life as a violist...year 2009
What helps me-Seeing Archetypes as Energy or Harmonics
What helps me to understand my connection to elder woman archetypes is to see them as fluid, changing with time, and also to think of them as energies, or harmonics, that at different times of my life, most fully represent the deepest sense of who I am. To make one analogy…in my former life as an amateur musician, (hopefully music is something I will return to someday soon) we had to think about harmonics, making sure that our instruments were in tune, both within themselves, ie all the strings on my viola had to correspond to each other, but also with each other, as in when I played in an orchestra or a quartet. If an instrument is out of tune with another, not only the notes themselves but also the harmonics would be out of synch, exaggerating the out-of-tune-ness even more. Or vice versa, when we are closely in tune,
I should also define harmonics. The dictionary says, harmonics are, “an overtone accompanying a fundamental tone at a fixed interval, produced by vibration of a string, column of air, etc. in an exact fraction of its length.” And, an overtone “is a one of the higher tones produced simultaneously with the fundamental (tone) and that with the fundamental comprise a complex musical tone.” To put it in a way that may be easier to understand, if someone is playing the string on a cello in a room, the string on another cello leaning against the wall in that same room will also vibrate, even if no one is touching it. And not only that note will resonate, but also a whole range of related notes up and down the harmonic scale.
When we talk about being “in tune”
We talk about being “in tune” with ourselves and with one another. When we are in tune with ourselves, we are also in tune with the larger world, with nature and also with the world within. To live fully as women is to live in a way where we resonate with the feminine archetypes, with beings who represent ways of being. It is to resonate with essential qualities that go beyond the surface of our daily existence. Even if we never acknowledge this in our lifetime, we are all living in relationship to something much deeper, to connections we carry deep in our bones. These archetypal beings exist across cultures, holding values and qualities such as power, sovereignty, beauty or compassion. The closer we get to embodying in our daily lives, the qualities that most fit our true purpose in being here, the more we also resonate with those archetypes that reflect those qualities. And these may change over time, throughout our lifetimes. The clearer and more directly we live, the easier it is for the archetype to shine through us.
What does this have to do with the changes of the seasons?
Just a little note about how this all connects to Tending Your Inner Garden, my new on-line offer…
When I look at connecting to archetypes as elder women, it helps to see the ways these connections change and flow throughout the year. Like different harmonics resonating on a cello string, we could deeply resonate with one archetype during a certain time, ie, for me, a fierce and scary but also powerful and wise Baba Yaga. But throughout the year, especially at the changes of seasons, there are different archetypal energies that come up with those changes. For instance, Baba Yaga tends to be connected to the deep, reflective winter season, and then at Imbolc (February 1st, 2nd) a new energy comes into being, the younger Brigid, who can be seen as Baba Yaga’s young counterpart. It helps to navigate these changes visually through a calendar. If this interests you, check out my Tending Your Inner Garden course to find out more.
By the way…
This isn’t for women only…
And this doesn’t have to do with women only. Men also need to connect with their inner feminine archetypes. I recently listened to an interesting podcast in which the man who was being interviewed talked about channeling his own inner feminine and connecting to goddesses. If you are interested in hearing more about him, his name is John David Latta, the link is here (if you follow Spotify) or you can look it up on your own streaming platform. Powerful stuff! On this podcast, which I highly recommend, Psychic Matters, with Ann Theato. The episode I am talking about is Synchronicites of Love with John David Latta, #084, Feb 23, 2023.
Commissioned Doll: A Big Hug
Greetings all! Recently I mentioned this commissioned doll in a blog post. This doll was a joy to make and I wanted to share her story with you. I hinted at some of her story in the above blog post but today I can tell more of her story. I was given permission by her new owner. Her name is now "Heather," very touching to me (because it is the German version of my name. Heather/Erica is a kind of flowering bush.)
I first receive the commission
A friend of mine from college (Bowdoin in Maine) recently asked me if I would make a doll for a special friend of hers who lives in Berlin, Germany. I told her I'd be happy to do so and we worked out the details.
First I asked her to send a list of questions to her friend. These questions include things like: what parts of your body needs healing? What are your favorite animals? Your favorite fairy tale?
Once I get the answers, it usually takes quite a long time to figure out how I am going to make a particular commissioned doll. That's why I don't do them very often. The first step is to make some sketches.
In the images above, the first steps, including false steps..sketches, practice patterns, and her sculptural needle felted head and hands
Working through various versions of the doll...
I found as I went along, that I loved Pesha's answers to my questions. Many of her favorites were similar to mine. She loves elephants, squirrels and butterflies. Her favorite fairy tale was the Frog Prince. She asked for healing in various parts of her body. As I worked with these ideas, an image of the doll came clearer in my mind. I had at first envisioned her as smaller with a stitched face.
You can see that first version of the doll above. I sat with this version for a while but eventually realized it wasn't right. She wanted to be larger and softer. One of the things that my friend had asked for is a doll that would be "like a big hug," and this smaller doll didn't seem to meet that need. So I turned to sculptural needle felting to make her face and hands.
Steps along the doll making process, the back of a stitched panel for her chest, and another view of that panel painted with fabric paint. Elephants added along the edge of the jacket. Her hat and then her tutu.
Working along, step by step
Above you can see how the doll comes together, step by step. I add elements from the fairy tale on the chest of the doll. You can see an image of my initial stitching of that story for the chest of the doll, from the back. I often like the way stitching looks from the back, a record of what is there but a bit blurred.
I decided to give her a jacket and to put the elephants on the sides of the jacket. I had researched about the symbolism of elephants and one of the stories talked about elephants being stacked on top of each other, a kind of origin of the world story.
Pesha is particularly fond of squirrels and so I decided to make them a central part of the doll. They became a symbol of healing. I gave each part of her body that needed healing its own special squirrel, along with one of the symbols from a list of favorite symbols she had shared.
One of the last steps was adding a tutu as a skirt. I had gotten a sense of Pescha's playfulness and sense of humor and felt that this would fit her personality. I used a range of her favorite colors in the tutu.
Detail view of the hat and of the doll as she progresses, including a special pocket inside the jacket
The hat with parrot feathers
She also got a hat and on the hat, I added parrot feathers, another of her chosen animals. I found someone on Etsy who sells feathers that her pet parrot molts. I gave the jacket an inside pocket where Pesha could add her own messages or special small objects.
Working on the shoes and felted feet-the first shoes I ordered were too small
The question of shoes
I had an idea of wood shoes. I ordered these first ones but unfortunately, I hadn't measured correctly and they were too small. I found some larger ones, painted them, adding the healing squirrels (her feet needed healing) and then I made some sculptural needle felted feet.
The symbolism of the various parts of the doll
When I make a commissioned doll, there is a lot of meaning that goes into each part of the doll. I collect symbols, stories, colors, and various other elements that have meaning to the person who is going to receive the doll. But I also research about the meaning of the various symbols and that gets woven into the final creation as well.
I will go into more detail, as an example, with the elephant symbol. Here is part of what I wrote for Pesha in the little book that I sent her along with the doll, to explain my process and thinking about the doll:
"Elephants are an earth symbol and represent ancient power. The elephants adorn your healing doll’s jacket. In addition to ancient power, elephants represent strength and even royalty. Elephants live on a grand scale. They have a splendid “largesse of soul.” Their cushioned feet (healing fours) are especially attuned to the earth’s vibrations. Elephants are so large that they actually reconfigure the topography of the land they walk on..."
I went on to write about the meaning of the elephant's tusks, the trunk and also to describe various folk and fairy tales that have elephants as protagonists. This is part of the fun for me as well, as I get to benefit from the learning that comes from this kind of research. And it makes it more meaningful for me to be able to add all of these layers into the final product.
The doll's long journey to Berlin
There was another part of the story of Pesha's doll that any of you who follow me on Facebook or Instagram might have read about. It became quite a production sending her to Berlin from Washington, DC. We decided to use DHL since it is a German company. Yet, somehow she still ended up taking longer than expected.
She flew to Ohio, then to New York City and then back to Ohio-finally making her way to Leipzig in Germany and then the last leg to Berlin. Along the way, her box had to be opened by customs, once or maybe twice. I was worried about her the whole way. I wrote about this to my readers on Facebook and Instagram and she had a team of people praying for her. We were all so happy when she finally made it to her new home!
Pesha's doll on her couch in Berlin. She is still choosing just the right place to keep her
Happy New Year!
Hey and welcome to the new year! Earlier this week, I went on a lovely field trip to see the new Matisse exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum. So inspiring! Afterwards my friend and I drove through the city looking for a place to eat. We weren’t having any luck with the on-line guides to restaurants. We weren’t finding anything and then just decided to park just because there was a spot. And it turned out we were in front of a delicious Chinese take-out restaurant, with “hand-pulled noodles,” so it turned out perfectly. Sometimes life is like that.
What follows is a kind of long e-mail, since I haven’t written here in a while.
From the Matisse in the 30's exhibit, three color studies for his "The Dance" commissioned triptych.
Not wanting to “push against the stream”
Up until the writing of this newsletter, I have been easing into the year very slowly. It was both because I wanted to take time to absorb all of the events of the last year, which for me had been quite busy and eventful. I wanted to take the time to reflect on what had gone well, and what had gone not so well. I didn’t want to “push against the stream” or go against the flow of what needed to happen. Finally, this week, I have felt that it was ok to move forward and I got confirmation from this newsletter from Beth Owl’s Daughter, a wonderful tarot guide, whom I have been following for a while.
Review of 2022
What I did was to reflect, using imagery and reviewing my journals of the past year, first on what I had experienced internally and in the outer world, over the past year. I went through all my journals, including my dream journal, looking at themes. I did several drawings after this review, not exactly reproducing what I had discovered, but more, reacting intuitively to collage images that showed up and my responses to them. I also drew some tarot and oracle cards. Below are some of these images.
Finally I created a vision of 2023, again responding intuitively to collaged images that I found, and then worked into those images. The image that resulted is below. The angel at the top playing a web into being is an image I have been sitting with for a long time, in various forms. As is the sort of "green man" below. and the narwhals and elephants. I need to mull over it for a while. I hung this image on my studio wall, along with my visions from 2019 and 2020. I didn’t do one last year because at the new year, I was still holed up at home with a broken ankle and couldn’t get to my studio.
One realization that came out of this review was that I need to create a bit more space for time in my studio. I have a couple of projects that I haven’t been able to get to as much as I would have liked, so I have decided for now, not to offer the Maiden, Mother, Crone Death class this year. I hope to offer it again next year. See below for what I am going to offer this year, or at least what my plan is. I’m not making any big promises.
Some of the collaged paintings I did as part of my review of the year. The last image is a detail from the image to the right. This process was inspired by a New Years visioning workshop offered by the wonderful Fonda Clark Haight
Sanctuary: Take Comfort Now, collage, watercolor crayons, watercolor pencils
Intentions for 2023
And now, to turn to a brief summary of some of what I am thinking of offering in 2023, so far. I may change my mind.
Tending Your Inner Garden
For the last two years, I have offered this seasonal workshop as a way of easing into the new year, tuning into the rhythm of the season. It was centered on an honoring of Imbolc, a Celtic celebration of early spring. This workshop was about celebrating the very beginnings of, the first sign of buds pushing up out of the ground, even though mostly early February is still a time of caring for our roots and reflecting. In the past, I had been asked by a few of the participants if I could offer this workshop throughout the year, celebrating each of the “cross-quarter holidays.” And so now I am deciding yes, I want to do this.
I want to change my Imbolc offer somewhat and haven’t quite figured out how that will look yet. So, for this year, I am going to offer the e-book and videos for Imbolc, as a self-paced course. Over the course of the year, I will offer the three remaining cross quarter celebrations as “in-person,” Zoom sessions. Here is a link to the self-paced course, as well as the beginnings of a description of how this will look going forward.
What are the cross-quarter holidays? In the Celtic tradition, these four holidays, Imbolc, May Day, Lammas and All Hallows come exactly between the two solstices (winter and summer) and the equinoxes. Each represent a more subtle shift in the season than these “main” holidays, where the shift is more dramatic. These four holidays are a means to tune in to the subtle shifts in the season and the ways in which they are experienced in our bodies when we are more in tune with nature. Here is a link to my description of this offer.
For the last Befriending Our Shadow class, I suggested that the participants might want to make a small badge to represent their shadow. I created these four badges as examples.
Befriending Our Shadow
This course has staying power and I am going to offer it again this fall. Here is a link to this year's dates for Befriending Our Shadow VI and some of my other offers for this year. I am still processing the previous (fifth) version of this course that I offered last fall. What a wonderful group of women in this class! More about that later.
What’s happening in my studio?
One really exciting thing, you will already know about if you follow me on Instagram. Last year, I got a kind of big commission for a doll and it was meant for someone who lives in Berlin. The doll, which I made in response to specific intentions that the recipient had given me, took about four months to complete. But then it took a while to get it off to Berlin. Somehow, she got stuck at the airport in New York for longer that was expected. But she finally made it there last week.
Pesha's doll, commissioned doll, now in the collection of a recipient in Berlin, Germany. She named the doll "Heather."
Another doll, this small crone doll, also took a journey at the end of last year to a new home. She didn’t have to go as far, only to Raleigh, North Carolina.
Small Crone, sticks and soft sculpture, mixed media, wall hanging, 13 x 10 x 3. 2021
And I am working on illustrating a children’s book, written by a friend, Channie Greenberg, whom I met after several collaborations on the Spark project. This is a collaboration between artists and writers, where the artist gives the writer an image to respond to and the writer gives the artist some writing to respond to. Below is one of the images I made in response to one of Channie’s stories in a Spark project a while back.
Finally, as those of you who are local to the D. C. area know, I work in a studio at the Jackson Art Center. We have Open Studios twice a year and this year will also be hosting artist talks, many featuring our own artists. If you are local and interested in coming to one of these, here is a link to a list of up-coming events.
Images throughout the article are some of the steps of my making a shadow flip doll based on the Madness of Mis story...doll is still in process...
We tend to avoid our shadows....
I talked in an earlier newsletter about how we tend to avoid looking at our shadows- And no wonder, why would we want to go into that dark, scary, swampy place inside ourselves when it feels so much safer to stay out here in the sunlight, safe and warm?
And yet…(continues below...)
Once upon a time…
Back about twelve years ago, at a time of great change and upheaval in my life, I started to try to write a novel. Looking back at it now, I can see that this novel was an attempt to make sense of stuff that was going on in my life that felt very scary and disconcerting.
Somehow by putting the scary stuff on the page in a fictionalized way, I was able to get some distance and perspective. The novel hasn’t yet jelled into anything real, maybe it never will. But I wonder if that wasn’t the purpose. Maybe it did what it needed to do, helping me to make sense out of my life. With the perspective of time, I can see that it was the impetus and inspiration for many of the creative endeavors in my life since then, including my healing doll-making journey.
The story of “Mis”
Recently I came across a story about a character that reminded me very strongly of one of the main characters in my novel. In both cases, this character, a young woman, crazed by grief, retreats from the “normal” way of inhabiting the world. She is “out of control”, perceived as dangerous and is thus hidden away. The character I encountered, quoted in writer, psychologist and mythologist, Sharon Blackie’s wonderful book, If Women Rose Rooted, was called Mis (pronounced "mish"). I had never heard of her before, but apparently her story goes way back in the pantheon of Celtic mythology. I am not going to go into this long and fascinating Celtic history-you can look it up if you want to here.
Layers of feathers and sharp claws
The bare bones of the story are that Mis is brought by her European warrior father to Ireland, as he attempts to conquer the inhabitants. He is killed in battle and she goes crazy at his death, retreating into the forest. Blackie’s description is powerful, “Mis rose into the air like a bird with a howl, trailing fur and layers of feathers to cover her naked skin. She grew great sharp claws with which she attacked and tore to pieces any creature or person she met….”
Loving her back to life
She remains in the forest, killing and howling for many years. The inhabitants of the land try to get rid of her but all who are sent after her are killed. Finally, a lowly musician volunteers to go in after her, not armed with weapons but instead with his music and his body. He is the only one who is able to subdue and transform her “back to some semblance of the beautiful woman she had been before her father was killed.” I especially love the description of how he loves her back into humanness, with a combination of love-making, food and song, “and when she asked for more, more loving she received.”
The Mythic Bird
In my novel, the main character, Elsinore encounters a similar wild creature, whom she first mistook for a bird: “The ‘bird’ lurched toward her with strange, awkward motions. The bird was in fact, a thin, tall, extremely pale girl with dark, long, hair, sticking to her body and to the feathers in messy strands. The girl was clothed in a rotten bird carcass. The bird-girl reached a long thin claw-likearm up to the sky and wailed. In a frenzy of feathers and claws, she began to writhe.” Elsinore meets this character, Chloe, when they are both young and though Chloe is not as violent as Mis, she is perceived as dangerous and is locked in a psychiatric ward. Over the course of the novel, Elsinore befriends Chloe, and is enriched by her wisdom and insight.
What’s the point of all of this?
My main point here is that doing the shadow work of unearthing these wild, “dangerous” selves within us can be a messy, uncomfortable and scary process. Because it is such a messy process, it is best undertaken accompanied. It can also take a lot of time.
We need some tools to be able to undertake this process. We need to be willing to let go of control in order to be able to see these parts, who seem to radiate chaos and disruption. We have to be prepared to find rage and anger, or even what looks like insanity under there.
It also takes vulnerability. The lowly musician who is able to bring Mis back to life, is only able to succeed by undressing completely and putting down all his weapons, armed only with music. And in my novel, Elsinore, at first prideful and judgmental of Chloe, learns through encountering many mistakes, losses and griefs of her own, to embrace and welcome Chloe, rather than reject her.
Love and Accompaniment
Though it is so tempting to go after the parts we don’t understand or are afraid of, with anger or criticism, in the end what works best is love. Mis is offered more love every time she asks, and Chloe also is treated with respect and love. And in both stories, it is not only these scary characters that are transformed. We are also transformed by the process of transforming them.
The reluctant shadow journey:
Nobody really wants to look at the shadow. I mean really look at the shadow. When it comes down to it, we don’t ever want to leave our comfortable lives, our cosy habits, the structures we have constructed in our lives to make everything run smoothly. Until those habits and structures stop working. Yet, even then, it is not as if we feel discomfort and immediately let go of our old habits and ways. Instead, if you picture those old habits as an old skin, like a snake skin, or a shell, like a turtle shell, we sometimes try to fit ourselves back into them. We squeeze and force ourselves in-ignoring the rips and the bulges that threaten to rip the skin irretrievably or the cracks or holes in the too-small shell. We try, like Cinderella’s unfortunate sisters-to force our too big feet into the crystal slipper meant for Cinderella, saying “it fits!” We may even try cutting off important parts of our psyche, like the sister who cut off the back of her foot to try to squeeze it into the crystal shoe. Your old “skin” may be an ill-fitting job, a relationship or life situation, or you may feel reluctance to face aging and what it does to our minds and bodies.
A true story, a promotion that didn’t work:
Sometimes it feels like we choose growth and change only when we are so uncomfortable that there is no other option. Maybe this is just me or maybe you can relate. This isn’t any sort of heroic journey. No, it’s sort of awkward and embarrassing journey where we fall on our feet, make mistakes and look foolish….
In my very first “real” job, just out of art therapy graduate school at NYU, I worked in a nursing home as an art “specialist,” (because even though I was fully trained as an art therapist, the administration thought the residents would be more comfortable if they didn’t have to think of me as a therapist.) I enjoyed the job for many years, the wonderful opportunities to create innovative programs because I had an amazing boss, who let me do almost anything from creating a professional art gallery in the nursing home, doing intergenerational poetry and art programs, and so on. But inevitably my boss moved on to new horizons and I was promoted to “interim activity director.” This story doesn’t end well because though from the outside, this position looked more spacious and like an advancement, it had none of what my soul needed and I kind of crashed and burned. The new position didn’t fit-no matter how much I and others around me tried to fit me into it. I felt cramped and awkward, away from the work I was meant to be doing, filling my time instead with administrative matters and problem-solving. Perhaps this would have also ended differently if I had been older with more life experience. This was my first job, my first experience in the “real world,” and this new position just wasn’t right. Something had to change.
Inevitably, we have to face the fact that the old skin or shell is gone:
There comes a point, like when I realized that my promotion wasn’t right for me, that we are unequivocally shut out from our once-comfortable shell or skin. We are forced to take the uncertain path, to change metaphors-not because we want to, but because we have no other choice. The path we were on has crumbled beneath our feet. We are in exquisite discomfort. We have avoided this for so long. We ignored all internal warnings and maybe some outward warnings, that we can no longer go ahead on the current path.
It is not a choice but an inevitability
At first, once the path is gone, the way ahead is completely unclear or nonexistent. We knew it would be like this. This is why we have avoided letting go as long as we could. If there were another way, (or another skin or shell) available, we would have already found it and rushed into it. But at first there is not. There is just the dissolution of what we have grown so comfortable with.
In a way our discomfort makes sense, given the world we live in…
Our work environments, our cities, our political worlds are designed in a way that take us far from our true nature. Unlike the snake or the turtle whose new shells inevitably do grow back, we are more like the mythical selkie, half seal/half woman that Sharon Blackie describes in her wonderful book, If Women Rose Rooted. The selkie is tricked by a lonely fisherman, who steals her seal skin, into coming to live with him. He promises to return her skin after seven years, but, at the time of its promised return, the skin has disintegrated, making it impossible for her to ever return to her true home under the sea. Just like the selkie we are left cut off from our true home, vulnerable and afraid. It is only at this point of hopelessness that we may be ready to consider looking at our shadows. Shadow work is difficult work, and we are drawn to it only when we sense intuitively that it has become a necessity. A matter of life or death. Even if is “only” soul death that we are talking about.
On the shadow path
“Luckily” this new path we are on is dark and shadowy. We can only see a few feet ahead of us or maybe even just one tiny baby step. But this darkness makes it easier to see the shadows. In this darkness we can see and hear clearly that which was obstructed by the bright shininess of the familiar. In taking a look at our shadows, our fears, our discomforts, the things we can’t bear, we can begin to grow ourselves a new skin or shell that fits us much better, that allows for more of who we really are.
And more on my own shadow journey…
Within a few months, I had left that nursing home job to find another position as art therapist at an Alzheimer’s center in Brooklyn, and then three moves, various art therapy jobs and two children later, I found my way to doll-making and the Transformative Healing Dolls, but that is another story….
Where I got the inspiration for this story of shedding skins….
I got the idea for this version of a shedding skin story (a central metaphor in my work if you have been following me for a while) from Sharon Blackie’s book, If Women Rose Rooted: A Journey to Authenticity and Belonging and the story on page 73 called “The Selkie’s New Skin” in the chapter called Islands of the Heart: Embracing the Call. I highly recommend this book. I have also been fascinated with selkie’s and I made a selkie doll towards the beginning of my doll-making journey and she still holds a great deal of meaning for me.
I've been making dolls for about ten years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am excited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!