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How Embracing our most Unlovable Selves can Feel Like Rediscovering a Long-lost Friend
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.
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!