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We are living under a poisonous shadow during this divisive time. The weight of this shadow hangs heavily on all of us, no matter our political or personal beliefs. It might be helpful to look at one of the founders of psychology, Carl Jung’s, concept of the collective shadow to understand more about what we as human beings are facing right now. Jung saw each of us as having a shadow, a sort of internal dungeon, where we throw all the experiences and feelings we don’t want to face. The shadow doesn’t go away but instead weighs us down and influences us from below, influencing everything we do and say.
The collective shadow
Just as this personal shadow weighs us down, we are also affected by collective shadows. Whole groups of people within a culture reject painful feelings and uncomfortable experiences and throw them into a collective shadow dungeon. Whatever this first group doesn’t own, gets projected onto an “other,” usually another group within the culture. The other then becomes seen as not human, not worthy of the same care and empathy, becoming a two-dimensional symbol of everything that is wrong with the world.
An extreme example of a collective shadow from Jung’s time
In Jung’s time, and in an extreme example, it was the rise of the Nazi party, which represented the dangerous effects of a collective avoidance of the shadow. A charismatic leader can take advantage of the suffering of one societal group by claiming that another group is to blame. This targeted group becomes the collective scapegoat, allowing those within the first group to have someone to blame for their suffering.
What gets lost, our ability to empathize with the “other”
What gets lost is the ability to empathize with what becomes the “other.” Whole groups of people, or living beings are seen as not human, or not real, not deserving of empathy. This can happen not only with other humans but also with other living beings, such as animals, trees and protected land. The mind wants to make sense out of a painful reality, to find someone or something to blame. This can make it easy to grasp onto an explanation, especially when it seems to be held by many others.
Collective shadows can take all forms
Climate denial, racism, homophobia, sexism-all of these can turn into collective shadows, but so also can the tendency to reject people or groups who hold these beliefs. Not to say that climate denial, racism and all these collective shadows are not extremely dangerous. But it can be easy to see those who embrace climate denial and other shadow beliefs and throw them into the shadow as well. Finding a balance can seem extremely difficult, even impossible.
How do we as individuals resist the pull of the collective shadow?
How do we as individuals, resist the pull of this powerful dynamic to throw whatever we reject into a collective shadow? We are creatures of community; we need each other and we need the company of others. When the communal atmosphere is poisoned by judgments, rejection and other negative emotions, how do we find a place for compassion and kindness? We need to be able to resist dangerous and destructive forces, from a place of inner strength and integrity, rather than from a place of hatred and judgment. As much as we can, we need to reject the temptation to react from a place of shadow, and instead find ways, however small to connect with our common humanity and aliveness.
How can shadow doll work help?
In the shadow doll work, we start with ourselves. We begin to befriend this “other” within ourselves and to see that this part of ourself is worthy of love. We begin to see that rather than a strange and scary other, the shadow, like all parts of ourself, is part of a whole. We can reject it out of hand, or we can try to understand and find potential wisdom within it. And then, from this place of self-acceptance and integrity, we can look at the ways in which we might have joined a collective shadow, perhaps even a shadow inherited from our ancestors. Gradually we become stronger, fiercer and more whole.
Deep and Important Work
The is deep work and important work. And it cannot be done alone. We need each other and we need to find those still places within us and within our society, to have the compassion and forgiveness to let go of beliefs that no longer serve us.
Life is always about change, but sometimes we feel it more...
We are out of lockdown (officially) here in Washington, DC and yet, things still don't feel very certain or safe. This is still a strange time, but the truth is, we are always living with change. Even though our worlds are changing all the time, it always feels like change is awkward and uncomfortable to adjust to. We think, if only we get organized enough, we can avoid the discomfort of change the next time. But there is always a next time, and no matter how much we think we have prepared for the change, we are still caught unaware. We may think that after a difficult year and a half that we have been through that any change would be welcome at this time. And yet there is still always the uncertainty of readjusting to something new. I have written about change in earlier blog posts, such as here.
The Befriending Our Shadow course has just ended. Endings such as this always force me to turn inwards. This course calls for an intense focus, which is deeply rewarding but at the same time I find I need time for deep reflection and rest afterwards. It is an honor to be a witness to the participants' deep work and courageous explorations. I learn so much along with them and find I need time to integrate what was learned and to think of ways to make the course even better next time. And it is almost summer, traditionally a more open-ended time, reminiscent of the school year. Somehow I have never really moved beyond that sense of summer being "time off" even though it isn't really any more.
So, with all of this comes, uncertainty, a sense of nostalgia for a past (before lockdown) that I'm not really remembering correctly and will never be able to go back to. What will the future be like? One thing I have noticed is that I have been re-evaluating the life I had before the pandemic, the habits I had back then. Do I really want do go back to the structure of my days as they used to be? As an introvert, there were ways in which I appreciated the excuse to spend longer hours on my own, in my studio working on dolls or drawings, or just at home watching movies or reading whatever book has caught my interest of late. How can I balance and leave room for these inward times of exploration with going back "out into the world" again?
I am also evaluating the Befriending Our Shadow course, tweaking and adding. This seems to be an on-going part of the process. The course will be offered again in the fall and the basic outline will remain the same, but I'm considering some changes that will make it even more powerful and effective. Stay tuned. Change is a chance to see things, even very familiar things, anew. When the context changes, we suddenly see ourselves and what we have been doing with new eyes. I am appreciating that and trying to take advantage of this new view.
For instance, it was the shutdown that motivated me to offer the on-line course, Befriending Our Shadow, three times, when I was no longer able to teach in-person workshops! It might have taken me much longer to do this without the impetus of the pandemic. So this was a silver lining that came from the pandemic for me. I wonder what the silver linings might have been for you.
Below I give you a peek into what some of those things were that I missed over the past year, when things were shut down. Some artists who I visited in studios that no longer exist. A show (of mine) that didn't happen. And museums and galleries that I visited where I could see the works so close up that I could see the brush strokes on a painting, the patterns of cloth used to construct a doll or wall hanging-not the same as viewing them on-line.
Some of the things I missed during lockdown...
Now that we are sort of/kind of coming out of the lockdown of the last year, I have been thinking about what I missed from before this strange time. One of those things was being able to go to actual museums and to see my artist friends in their studios or shows. Below is a peek at some of my visits in the past with artist friends and to museums and galleries. You can see many of these artists works on-line now and I have provided links. (It's not like I didn't get to visit these artists, see these shows in the past. I did. But who knows what shows and artist visits might have happened if we hadn't been locked down.)
Also I miss what didn't happen for me-a possible show of work that had to be cancelled and now I have to think about how it will manifest in the future. Above is a detail from a book that I wrote and illustrated about the journey of a crone-like woman, named Kalili, who comes up from her underground world, to heal a sickness that has come over the medieval world of the story. In a way, it is a metaphor for our current ecological crisis. In this image, Kalili and her companions are waiting to be let into the gates of one of the main town in the fictional country of Ysadluftvelt.
What I missed...
...being able to do things like visit my friend, Pauline Siple, in her Torpedo Factory studio before the shutdown. She is no longer there, but her paintings, dolls and other works can be viewed on-line.
..being able to see my friend Leslie Blackmon's thesis presentation at her graduation from The Washington Studio School. She shows her work at the Touchstone Gallery in DC, and her work is also viewable on-line.
...being able to visit my artist friend, Susan Sherwin, when she had her studio at Art Blitz Studio, founded by artist Barbara Muth.
Susan is no longer at that artist collective, but Barbara Muth and her artist collective is still there. Susan does wonderful portraits and recently did a series of dinosaur paintings, inspired by her grandson, whom she has also taught to be an artist. He recently has had several commissions and at age eight, is a painter in his own right.
...being able to see this Black Dolls show, curated by artist and doll-maker, Priyah Bhagat. I did post here previously more about this wonderful exhibit, that I was honored to be able to participate in.
Below are some images I saw at the National Gallery at a time before lockdown. The first was part of an amazing series by Thomas Cole. This one was called "Old Age." This series of paintings take you through the stages of life, showing, through metaphor and symbol, what most occupies one at each stage.
And below that is a powerful doll-like image by Bessie Harvey (also at the National Gallery, I think) called Birthing and made of painted wood, beads, rhinestones, sequins, glitter and a nail. I love the juxtaposition of all these materials and the power of the image.
Below are some details of the above scene in the Kalili story, in more detail. Here are the words from this page "I noticed a brass knocker in the shape of a bear...one of the doors swung slightly inward. We could see a brown foot, a leather clad foot and then a petite figure of a person. It was difficult to tell if it was a man or a woman. The figure was covered from head to toe in a dark brown cloak, like a monk's habit. A small voice issued out of its mouth, invisible within the folds of the hood, 'who are you and what is your business here?'" The images are drawn with pen, goauche and Caran D'Ache watercolor crayons.
The Dark Goddess, collage with magazine images, markers and Caran D'ache crayon
Where is the Space for Women's Anger?
We've been talking about anger in Befriending Our Shadow. Especially how women's anger is too often shut down, starting from when we are small children and are told to be "good little girls," to experiences in the workplace of being called things like "psycho-bitch" (yes, this was someone's true life experience,) for expressing anger while serving in a corporate leadership position. And then when we get older, we are really not allowed to express anger, that is if we are seen at all. Old women are supposed to be kind and nurturing but mostly they are invisible. Does this sound harsh? Do you think we have made progress and these stereotypes are no longer true? Maybe some progress has been made, but judging from the lived experiences of the women in the Befriending Our Shadow course and my own experiences, they are still strong enough to shut us down.
Listening to the Dark Goddesses
Too often anger gets pushed down into our shadow as a result of the inability/unwillingness of the world around us to see and accept our anger. Shadow work is the difficult work of allowing space for these difficult emotions, not yet "befriending" them but first, just letting them be, to have some space and some air. As a way to guide us in this difficult journey, we have been visiting with the dark goddesses who have shown up in various cultures around the world and throughout history. The Dark Madonna, Kali and Durga...and of course, Baba Yaga. (I also wrote about anger and dark emotions here.)
In the course, we did a guided meditation to visit with our version of the dark goddess, being willing to be surprised at how she shows up and asking her for help and guidance. Here were some of the results: a fierce warrior, so strong and powerful that the woman experiencing her was brought to tears; a dark hulking powerful figure, almost non-verbal, cursing and swearing but reminding the woman experiencing her of her own boundless power; a fierce, strong woman who would not speak and yet the woman visiting with her sensed that she was there as a guide. And many more. We all as women, know inside that there is a fierce guardian within us, powerful and strong, who is there to remind us of our power and also to protect us from any negative forces. But it takes the courage to be willing to look within and to see her in her scariness and fierceness.
A New Way of Looking at Fierceness and Anger
We talked in the group about Kristen Neff's work with self compassion, and how she has broadened the definition to include that fierce self compassion that allows, for instance, a mother to pull a car off her child. Below is an image representing this new understanding.
We know, instinctively, as women, (and also as men, this is not limited to women but we all have the capacity for this kind of fierce compassion), that there is more to power than what the patriarchy has to tell us. We know that power doesn't have to mean "power over." We know that there is a great deal more strength in restraint and powerful words than in lashing out and using weapons at the slightest provocation. Too long, this wiser way has been stifled and ignored, in the way we treat the environment, anyone who has less power in the world, the animal kingdom.
As we begin to turn inward and revitalize ourselves by reconnecting with our own fierce feminine anger, we are then able to turn that force outward as a means of healing the world around us as well as ourselves.
From Kristen Neff's work with yin and yang self compassion, recognizing that in addition to the passive form of self compassion that we are used to, there is also a fierce self compassion that acts in the world
Durga's Sword-Slicing through Delusion and Illusion
We talked a lot about Durga, from the Hindu pantheon, a powerful manifestation of the goddess Kali. Traditionally she has eight limbs and each holds a tool of enlightenment. But she is best known for her glowing sword. Several women in the group talked about their evolving relationship with Durga, once they began to know her. For more about Durga, see the wonderful Sally Kempton, teacher of meditation and yoga philosophy, who has written extensively about the Hindu goddesses.
One of the participants, perhaps less familiar with Durga, asked, "does she really have to be that fierce?" Another answered, "Yes! Her flaming sword is needed to cut through delusion and illusion. We can get so caught up in confusion and inner fog sometimes when we are trying to squelch our own anger. Sometimes we need that sword of Durga to see beyond this. Or when we are experiencing injustice, we need her to give us the power needed to overcome our adversaries." Another woman said that she had at first been afraid of Durga but felt fond of her now and appreciative of her reminder of the power she has within.
Creating Our Own Reminder and Manifestation of Our Inner Power, Doll Making
I had a funny experience preparing for the class on the dark goddesses and anger shadows. I had the thought, when considering whether I had images of dark goddesses and anger in my own work, "oh, I don't really show anger a lot in my dolls." Followed immediately by the realization that this couldn't be further from the truth! Owning my anger is one of the most difficult parts of my own shadow work. When I look at the way in which emotions tend to be layered in my psyche, anger is way down. So it has been incredibly important for me to be able to express anger and fierce power in my dolls. This representation is almost everywhere in my work. But in that initial reckoning, I "forgot" about this. A funny reminder of how shadows work and how befriending our shadows, is a life-long process, which can be compared to peeling off layers of an onion. But to create a doll that expresses some of these shadow emotions can be a powerful process in itself and then we have a reminder and a representation that we can turn to at times of need. We can put them in a prominent place in our house, such as next to the computer where you write every day, or in your studio or wherever you most need to be reminded and given courage throughout the day.
What is your experience of fierce feminine anger? I hope that this brief exploration inspires you to think about what this means for you. One of the questions that came up in the course was the need for role models of fierce powerful women in the world around us. Who are the role models for you?
Or you can wear her around your neck! Kali necklace, needlefelted
Held in Nature's Embrace, Goauche and Caran D'ache crayons on paper
I struggled writing this blog post because in some ways, the topic didn't fit the times we are in right now. We have come through a very long, hard year of difficulties and around us, at least, here in the Northern hemisphere it is spring and things are opening up, albeit just a bit. It almost feels like there isn't space for grief in the midst of all this beautiful bounty of spring-irises, multicolored roses, peonies, and the trees a canopy of fresh green. And we have the vaccine now. However, there is still grief and loss, especially for those most grievously hit by the pandemic. In a way, this theme fits very well with what I am trying to get across with this blog post today, that we are much healthier when we see grief and loss on a spectrum with joy and celebration, rather than distinct and separate from each other. Jung said, "everything alive creates a shadow," but at the same time, it is the shadows that create definition, form and depth to our brightest experiences.
What if we were to create a bit more space for grief?
Last week, in Befriending Our Shadow, we talked about grief, loss and the "Dark Night of the Soul." I have written about these topics in other posts here or here, so today, I want to focus on the need to create space for grief, in a world that often seems to want to move beyond it. To either shut it down, to distract from it, or to rush past a superficial acknowledgement. What if we were to create just a little bit more space for the griefs that come up in our lives, large and small?
Allowing time for grief
Because and this is the most important thing, if we don't do this, griefs can have a tendency to layer themselves one upon the other, until we are in a place of "impasse" or deep depression and we can't move forward at all. In a previous version of this course, someone in the class talked about what it was like to grieve her mother, when the world around her was ready for her to move on. Her work gave her a certain amount of time to be "done with it," and her friends and family gave her a bit more, but none of it was nearly enough. Luckily, she was in tune enough with her own needs to seek out places where she could talk about her grief and receive support for as long as it took, for her to be able to function, and to even minimally be able to meet the daily demands of her life.
Death as a part of the natural rhythm of a life that is larger than us
We talked about how within some religions, there are structures created around mourning-the wearing of black clothes, covering mirrors, and an understanding of the stages of mourning that someone goes through, without a need to rush them. We talked about how, in a patriarchal culture such as the one we live in, here in the Northern United States, the natural cycles of death and life are cut off and truncated. Death is seen almost as a failure, somehow, a "battle lost." What if instead, it were are returning to a beginning, a part of an endless, ever-renewing cycle of life and death, each informing the other?
Invitations to Surrender
I loved reading a quote in the wonderful Toko-pa Turner in her recent newsletter, "I’m thinking of death also in this moment. Not just as a final passage into a grand remembering, but as a companion who is always with us in every moment we are consumed with fear and regret. Each of these small deaths are echoes from the great death, invitations to practice at surrender. To give way, as the winter does to spring, to the kindness and generosity of allowing." What if we were to allow, not just those large deaths and losses but also the small ones that are a natural part of each day, and what if we were to see them as "invitations to practice at surrender." This isn't something that comes easy to me, but as always, I try to teach what I need to learn. By just sharing these words with you, I hope they create a bit more space for you, whether you are facing a large grief or one of the daily "small deaths," a space to breath and a space to recognize that you are not alone. I know that in writing these words, it helps me as well. And maybe then we are better able to welcome in the joyful colors, sounds and smells of spring!
What's in my studio right now?
I just finished this doll, I think. You can see some of how she progressed in the images above. She emerged out of a desire to work with some powerful dark emotions but she seems now to be a companion and a witness to the shadows of loss and grief. As I have mentioned before, you can follow my process in my studio and other things that come up on my Instagram account.
The Golden Shadow
Last week in "Befriending Our Shadow", an on-line doll making shadow course I am currently leading, participants took part in a guided visualization to meet a guide, possibly someone from their lives, a guardian angel or a representation of their "highest self." As they visited with this guide, they were asked the question, "what would it be like to be seen by the eyes of love." This meditation came from a wonderful book that I had recently been introduced to called "Your Resonant Self" by Sarah Peyton. As in the past, this meditation brought up strong emotions. For some, it was a reminder of a connection with a source greater than themselves, that they had forgotten about but were now reconnected with in a very powerful way. For others, it brought up grief, as they began to connect with a loving presence that they had not experienced to date in their lives or were only just beginning to come in contact with. Or anywhere along the spectrum from those two responses.
This reminds me again, of the quote from Marianne Williamson, "our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us." In a way, to be in the presence of such deep unconditional love, is like being in the presence of our "golden shadow," that part of ourselves that we aren't ready to acknowledge and which includes our very best and highest qualities, including our abilities to love and to love ourselves, In a way, this loving of ourselves is the most important part of shadow work. The more we can accept ourselves as beings of light, the easier it is to bring all the scary, shadow parts of ourselves into the fold.
Enduring the Beams of Love
One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, puts it this way, (in turn quoting poet William Blake) “We are put on this Earth to learn to endure the beams of Love.” Anne Lamott talks of having to remind herself of this task frequently. It is so easy to get sidetracked by the day-to-day challenges of life and to forget what this quote is alluding to, that we are all already whole, and deserving of love. I know you already know all of this but like many truths, at least for me, I can't be reminded enough.
The image above by Hildegarde of Bingen, is a visual representation of one of her mystical visions. She started seeing these visions at age 4, always with eyes wide open and in a conscious state. In this image, there is a balance between a spiritual experience of connection with "soul" or "living light" on one side, with the golden radiance of soul connecting directly into the womb of the resting woman. The other side represents the challenges of "earthly life." Hildegarde of Bingen is one of my favorite mystics. I go to her for inspiration. To me, this image of the golden light reminds me of the beams of love that William Blake talks about.
Below I share some representative images by William Blake, poet, mystic, artist of the 1800's. To me, they are another way of representing that fantastical vision that Hildegarde von Bingen also spoke of, and which demonstrate so vividly our connection to a loving force greater than ourselves.
I hope that this very brief introduction to some of my favorite visionary artists will inspire you to take a deeper dive into their work. I also hope that they inspire you to consider the ways in which you too are seen by the eyes of love always.
Explorations in the Studio
Below is an image of what I am working on in my studio currently. Inspired by my doll-making mentor, Barb Kobe. I have been having a great deal of fun exploring a new, to me, medium of paper clay, to build faces, feet and hands. I am connecting these paper clay body parts to armatures made of wire, stick or even rolled up paper from paper bags. The images show some of the progression in how I went about putting the doll together. She is a powerful crone and has something to do with finding one's way through the dark. She is not finished. I am working on embellishing her with beads and adding a cloak. I tend to post more frequently on Instagram about my process in my studio. You can find these posts here in case you are interested.
Image from Carl Jung's "Red Book" his private musings on dreams and overwhelming imagery that flooded his mind in the chaotic time just before WWI. He didn't want to let it be publicly seen, so it was literally hidden in a Swiss vault until his descendants allowed it to be reproduced and published in 2009
"Silly me, I thought this was a doll-making workshop!"
These were the words of one of the participants in the most recent version of the shadow doll workshop, "Befriending Our Shadow" that is currently going on. This aha moment became a sort of a theme in one of the beginning sessions of the workshop, the discovery on the part of several participants that this was going to be more than they had originally signed up for. And yet, that this was going to be deep learning in a different and possibly more rewarding way than a workshop in which they would be simply learning sewing and doll construction techniques.
We had been talking about the "trickster" nature of the shadow, how impossible it is to see "the lion that has swallowed you." And truly, it is mostly impossible to see one's own shadow. This participant went on to say that she was grateful to have stumbled into the often confusing, and yet constantly surprising path of self-discover that is shadow work. Also surprising perhaps, in a process that would seem to focus on the dark and scary, is that there is also a lot of laughter in this group. It takes a certain amount of self-trust and a willingness to put aside certainties to do this work. This promises to be a courageous and self-aware group of women who are well able to take on this task. Though they may feel a bit daunted, in their words, they are "all in!" And they have a sense of humor about it all.
Our shock on first encountering the shadow
In What the Shadow Knows: An Interview with John A, Sanford (in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature) Sanford says "when one first sees the shadow clearly, one is more or less aghast." Our defenses "melt away" and we are sometimes plunged into a sort of depression. This is what I meant earlier by the trickster nature of the shadow. It pulls the rug out from under us, but as we lose our footing, we begin to discover the instability of what we were standing on, like falling through old, rotten floorboards of an old house. We are in for a big renovation project. But what possibilities!... if we are willing to roll up our sleeves and dig into the work of renovations.
Sanford goes on in this article, to describe the benefits of getting more comfortable with the shadow. He says that as we let go of our false self, that self that we put forward into the world in order to fit into outward structures and expectations, we begin to come into contact with something much truer and more reliable. But it is a weird and contradictory path. In our western culture, we are inundated with false images of who and what we are supposed to be. We need to step away from this constant bombardment in order to tune inward and figure out who we really are and what we really stand for....
Jung himself formulated his theories out of a process of "active imagination," as a way to make sense of a disordered and disintegrating reality...
The image at the top of this post is from Jung's Red Book, a series of paintings that he created during a time when his internal and external world was collapsing. He was ostracized from his mentor, Sigmund Freud and Freud's followers, after Jung claimed the importance of the spiritual realm in the process of personal healing (oversimplifying here of course to make a point) His marriage was disintegrating and he, as a sensitive and intuitive being, was feeling and witnessing the ominous signs of what was to be WWI and then WWII. Using a process he called "active imagination," he allowed these waking dream images to pour out onto the page and turn into a sort of hero's journey of personal integration and discovery.
As an artist and doll-maker, I am moved by his use of art as a way to make sense out of his world. He would repeatedly tell his followers apparently to not copy him. He would tell them they needed to create their own Red Books. As an artist and as explorers of my psyche, I take to task his exhortation to develop and discover my own personal iconography and I hope to inspire others to do the same-see my recent paintings above and dolls below.
Still with me? Thanks
So what does this all mean? It means that I want to encourage you to create your own Red Book as well. It doesn't have to be in painting or doll making, Instead choose whatever medium speaks to you. And that could be anything from writing some lines in a journal, sketching images or lying on your back and seeing images in the clouds. It is worth it to your mental health to find your own meaning, your own personal iconography to make sense out of your own life. I leave you with a poem by Wendell Berry that captures some of the sense of what it is like to discover your shadow:
I Go Among Trees
by Wendell Berry
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.
~ Wendell Berry from Sabbaths
Why Flip Dolls? Still asking this question...
Back in 2016, I wrote a blog post here about flip dolls and it is still the post that gets the most comments on my website. I asked the question back then, why flip dolls? and it seems I am asking it still. Above is an example of a flip doll from 1901, a time when these Black "Mammy" vs young girl flip dolls were very popular. This one was made by Albert Bruckner, a designer who capitulated on the interest in flip dolls by creating a technique that allowed the doll faces to be printed on fabric and more easily reproduced. This doll was then mass produced and was very popular in its time, though it reinforced the unfortunate stereotype of the "Black Mammy."
This flip doll harkened back to the origin of flip dolls, at least in the U.S., of a doll that was made by slave mothers for their daughters during the slave era in the south of this country. See the article in the link above, for more details about this sad origin story. The image below maybe be closer to what those original dolls looked like, though there are not many images available.
I've been fascinated by flip dolls ever since discovering them many years ago and have wanted to transcend and "revision" their function into something more hopeful. To that end I have challenged artists to make flip dolls, worked with homeless women, teaching them to make flip dolls, made many of my own and more recently, used the two-sided nature of the flip dolls as a vehicle to explore the "shadow."
What is the "shadow"?
One of the most obvious characteristics of the flip doll is that it flips, that is it turns upside down so that what was once the top of the doll becomes the bottom. Not only that, the two sides are connected so that whichever side is up one way is upside down the other. When I thought about the ways that the two-sided nature of the doll could be used to explore story, I realized that it would be perfect to explore a particular type of story and that is the story of the shadow.
Throughout history, we have been fascinated by our shadows in different ways. In ancient times, the shadow was what lurked beyond the circle of light cast by the bonfire that we sat around to keep ourselves warm and to tell stories around. Hidden in the darkness beyond the firelight were the scary things that could harm us-mammoths, saber toothed tigers and all manner of "monsters." More recently, with the invention of psychology, we began to discover the "monsters" within ourselves. Though of course shadow was known through myths, fairy tales, and many other forms of writing, psychology made it more specific. And especially psychologist and writer, Carl Jung made it easier to understand what it might mean to have a shadow within ourselves, a part of our personality that was made up of all that we wanted to hide from ourselves.
Image of one side of an early handmade flip doll from United Federation of Doll Clubs DVD. She is an 11 inch doll with hand embroidered features. The DVD narration states that this doll may have been owned by a slave girl in the South. She is very well worn. (Note: I was not able to find the link to this video for this article but you can try contacting the United Federation of Doll Clubs to ask.)
Flip dolls and the shadow-homage to the origin of the flip doll
So, when I thought about bringing together the shadow and the flip doll in the form of shadow doll workshops, I was guided by a couple of intentions. First, I wanted to honor the origin of the flip doll, with its very simple materials, by encouraging participants in these workshops to make dolls out simple cotton cloth material. The women who first made these dolls did not have access to a wide range of materials. They used what was to hand and mostly that was scraps of cloth from feed bags, such as those used for grain or flour. And then these dolls were stuffed with leftover scraps or maybe remnants of cotton. These women did want the dolls to be soft, so that they would be comforting to hold.
In the shadow doll workshops that I lead, I encourage participants to use a simple cloth doll design to make their flip dolls, though they are free to also use their materials. Below is a flip doll created by a participant in the first on-line Befriending Our Shadow flip doll workshop, Naomi Zow, using a cloth pattern but with her own embellishments and story.
"Light/Inner Guide vs Shadow/Inner Critic" Two sides of flip doll created by Befriending Our Shadow participant, Naomi Zow.
Flip dolls-both shadow and guardian within one doll
Delving into one's shadow can be a scary thing. When we have hidden away parts of ourselves, it can be scary to start to look at them again. And often, the deeper these parts are hidden, the more we may have developed resentful and sometimes even angry feelings towards these parts. Yet, we know on some level that what was hidden away contains our power within it, so we know it is worth the work and the fear. But we need a guide along this journey.
The wonderful ability of the flip doll to contain opposites, grief and joy, darkness and light, comfort and fear, makes it possible to combine the shadow with its "opposite" in one doll. This leads to my second intention, to use the two sided nature of the doll as a way to allow both the guardian and the shadow to be connected in one doll. However the tricky nature of this work means that we have to be willing to accept the twists and turns in the road as we go forward. Sometimes what starts of being the shadow, the "monster," can turn into our biggest ally. I have seen this happen time and time again, both in my own work and in the work of participants in my workshops.
Below is a wonderful example of a cloth shadow flip doll from the second Befriending Our Shadow workshop. Joanne Delaplaine found that the "monster" octopus transformed into an ally in this doll.
Ms. Peacekeepr/Octopus Woman, two sides of a flip doll by Befriending Our Shadow participant Joanne Delaplaine
The journey continues...
I don't think I am ever going to get tired of working with, learning about and teaching others to make flip dolls. Last week was the start of the third version of Befriending Our Shadow, an intensive eight week exploration of the shadow within the intimacy of small groups. I am very excited about the wonderful, brave women who have shown up this time to take this class. I am looking forward to seeing what comes up for them and where their journeys take them. I feel very lucky.
Here's a little video about making a tiny flip doll in case you want to experiment yourself!
"Octopus Woman/Ms. Peacekeeper" two sides of shadow flip doll by Joanne Rocky Delaplaine
It's difficult enough when the world outside is challenging...
...but it can become even more difficult when the voices inside seem to be working against us. We have all been in those situations where it seems like our worst enemies are ourselves. I certainly have. We find ourselves repeating too-comfortable patterns of behavior over and over, even though they never seem to get us the results we want. It takes courage and spaciousness to be able to step back and begin to witness ourselves, and especially to begin to witness those parts of ourselves that lurk in the shadows, our "monsters."
Doll artist and participant in the Fall 2020 Befriending Our Shadow course, Joanne Delaplaine, describes her doll this way:
"Octopus Woman can change shape at a whim, squirt ink in her own defense, and escape any trap humans can set. Ms. Peace Keeper thinks making peace is more important than troubling the waters. She knows she has much to learn from Octopus Woman, and knows all life comes from the sea. They are bound together by their curiosity."
I was honored to be able to witness Joanne's process as she created this doll during the Befriending Our Shadow course last fall. When participants approach the making of their dolls. they often think of one side as the ally or guardian and the other as the shadow or foe. At first the octopus came to Joanne as a scary creature, with sharp teeth and a threatening demeanor. Something to avoid and representing fearful elements in her life. But as she dove deep into her process, working with the doll and developing a relationship with it, she began to find that the octopus was shifting, changing its shape, as octopuses (or octopi!) do. She flowed with the process and eventually discovered that the octopus was her ally and friend, as she describes above. She became open to learning from Octopus woman as a part of her willing to challenge the side of her that values peace more.
I am generalizing this phenomenon of seeing monsters within ourselves. I am not sure that this is what was happening in Joanne's case-I'll let that part of her story stay private. Though as I said, it has certainly happened in my life that I find myself battling inner monsters-I am often reminded that we teach what we need to learn. I recently came across a poem, that I share below, which describes in a different way, that sense of having a "monster" within. Strangely, his imagery showed up in a doll of mine many years ago. That to me is part of the mystery of the creative process, how we discover something in ourselves and then find an echo of it in the outer world. Jung called these echoes, "the collective unconscious." More about this below...
"Tumnus, not a Faun" a healer doll from 2015. You can see the panel depicted at right, peeking through on the back of his cloak in the first image. More about this below...
What does it mean to befriend our shadows?
Irish poet John O'Donohue says it very well in the following poem about coming to terms with trauma. In this poem he captures so well that feeling of finally being ready to confront that difficult memory, whether it is a trauma, a loss, or anything that is painful to remember. Something that we have been carrying around as an extra weight on our hearts, or as he says it here so well, "...And whose branches your awakened hands/
Now long to disentangle from your heart."
Working with the shadow is like that, a tender, delicate process of turning towards and beginning to develop a relationship with what we have been hiding from, a part of us that was within us but that we haven't wanted to acknowledge. Here he describes it as a way of getting distance from something that was too close. In this case, in order to develop a relationship with whatever was being carried around from the past, the subject of the poem had to step back and gain distance, and "disentangle" the "branch" from her own heart. Tender and powerful self surgery in a way!
This is a spiritual process, requiring patience, blessings, support and kindness, best done in the company of others.
For Someone Awakening To The Trauma of His or Her Past:
For everything under the sun there is a time.
This is the season of your awkward harvesting,
When the pain takes you where you would rather not go,
Through the white curtain of yesterdays to a place
You had forgotten you knew from the inside out;
And a time when that bitter tree was planted
That has grown always invisibly beside you
And whose branches your awakened hands
Now long to disentangle from your heart.
You are coming to see how your looking often darkened
When you should have felt safe enough to fall toward love,
How deep down your eyes were always owned by something
That faced them through a dark fester of thorns
Converting whoever came into a further figure of the wrong;
You could only see what touched you as already torn.
Now the act of seeing begins your work of mourning.
And your memory is ready to show you everything,
Having waited all these years for you to return and know.
Only you know where the casket of pain is interred.
You will have to scrape through all the layers of covering
And according to your readiness, everything will open.
May you be blessed with a wise and compassionate guide
Who can accompany you through the fear and grief
Until your heart has wept its way to your true self.
As your tears fall over that wounded place,
May they wash away your hurt and free your heart.
May your forgiveness still the hunger of the wound
So that for the first time you can walk away from that place,
Reunited with your banished heart, now healed and freed,
And feel the clear, free air bless your new face.”
― John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
In the image above of "Tumnus not a Faun," the felted panel on the back of his cloak depicts a woman having branches pulled out of the top of her head. They come out of her head but I very much resonate with the image of disentangling a branch from my heart as well. I love when these kinds of synchronicities occur in art making!
Befriending Our Shadow 2021 now live and ready for registration!
A doll-making e-course about befriending our shadow, using tenderness and compassion to connect with all parts of ourselves. Flip dolls are two sided dolls connected at the waist. These two-sided dolls have the capacity to capture divergent views of reality, dark vs light, joy vs sorrow, love vs alienation. In this course you will have the chance, through exploring and befriending your shadow, to discover hidden strengths within. And at the end of the course, your doll will represent and unite both shadow and light.
Early bird price deadline March 29
Sign up deadline April 2
Course starts April 5
Course ends May 29
Click here to find out more and to sign up.
"I really wanted to explore my own current state of mind and I had a feeling that the class might encourage the deep dive I needed. These simple expectations were met and the more hidden expectations emerged and were met as well. The classes followed a path that was like a stairway down towards an internal place where the psyche and the soul met somehow…”
Barbara Sobol, participant Befriending Our Shadow, Fall 2020
"Carl Jung said 'The shadow is where the gold is.' The process of working on a flip doll in a community of doll-makers under the tutelage of Erika Cleveland was a wonderful way of accessing shadow parts of my personality, those parts of myself I have trouble acknowledging and seeing clearly…”
Joanne Delaplaine, participant Befriending Our Shadow Fall 2020
One side of Blooming and Planted, shadow flip doll by Sam Margarette, created during the Fall 2020 session of Befriending Our Shadow
Sometimes change brings joy and at other times, it can be a bumpy road...We have been and are still going through a very difficult period throughout the world and specifically here in the US. The work that I do in my studio and in the workshops that I lead constantly reminds me of the need to turn inward towards our inner guidance, towards those places of solidity and groundedness, as a way to navigate times of accelerated change like this.
Below and above you can see one of the amazing dolls created in the most recent Befriending Our Shadow course, by a young doll artist, younger than the women who usually participate in my groups but I think this artist is an old soul. She found ways in her doll making to process challenging experiences and to give herself a talisman of hope and inspiration. Below I share a peek into a large doll that I have been working on along with the Befriending Our Shadow workshop, in this case, taking a look at the state of the earth, the ways in which the earth itself must befriend her shadows.
And over the years, I have contemplated the cycles of life in nature as they correspond to the cycles of life for us as women. Just as the seasons cycle from the newly budding growth of spring, to the fullness of summer, the ripening of fall and the dormancy of winter, we as women go through our own seasons. These cycles have been celebrated for ages , going back to the pagan times when seasons were marked by additional intermediate stages in addition to the seasons as we know them. We are approaching one of those intermediate markers, Imbolc, on February 2nd, the midway point between the winter solstice and the start of spring. This is a time of the very first buds, making their way out of the snow. And in a way this also celebrates our own tentative first steps into the new year. I am offering a workshop Tending Your Inner Garden: Imbolc Celebration, as a way to mark this milestone.
Winter 2020 Befriending Our Shadow Showcase: Doll Artist Sam Margarette
I'm so very excited to start to share with you some of the truly amazing dolls that were created as part of the winter session of Befriending Our Shadow...This one is entitled "Blooming and Planted" and is a shadow flip doll by Sam Margarette.
She says of this doll-this is one side and above is the other, "The halo wound up turning into a bit of a wreath with the leafs and flowers, kind of turning them into Spring and Fall spirits (which wound up working perfectly with the rest/rebirth theme), and being more Circle of Life than I expected. Each of them has a pocket on their skirt to hold any notes or reflections I'm worried about or aspiring to, kind of like sending little prayers out to the Universe; they're my little messengers."
This second round of Befriending Our Shadow met for two months, from October to November, meeting in small groups over the course of the two months and creating their dolls as a way of diving deep into their psyches to explore their shadows.
It was an honor to be able to work with this brave and creative group of women and I will be sharing some of their dolls over the next month or so. I always find that I learn so much from this process, right along with them and I am grateful for that.
The next round of Befriending Our Shadow will be coming in the spring, either mid-March or the beginning of April. I am making some significant changes to the materials that I share as part of the class and some changes to the structure of the program. Each time I offer it, I also learn more about how best to offer it. So I appreciate your patience if you are on the wait list.
What's been happening in my studio...
After the Befriending Our Shadow winter session ended in November, I took the opportunity to dive back into my studio for a while during the months of December and January. Here is a hint of one of the biggest projects that I was able to finish before the end of the year...
This image is a peek at my latest large flip doll, entitled The Living Earth. the Nuclear Light side. In this doll, and in conjunction with the Befriending Our Shadow class, I explored our relationship with mother earth. I envisioned the Nuclear Light side of the doll as a vision of the earth beset by too much light, too much activity and energy. The other side, which I will share soon, I called the Healing Dark, is about the way in which the darkness, the deepest ocean, the night skies, the deepest forests and the parts of the earth that still have darkness, can bring healing for all. I will be sharing more about this doll over the next month.
Guardians and Angels, goauche and watercolor crayon in handmade journal, by Erika
Our True Nature
This round of Befriending Our Shadow course is complete. This week we had our last sessions, the last one being the day before Thanksgiving. Participants in the class have come full circle, from tentatively approaching the shadow, which was experienced as a monster, lurking in the shadows, to acceptance and even friendship with the shadow. More than that, they have come to see more deeply how the shadow and the light are deeply intertwined. They have explored in their powerfully expressive dolls, how the shadow cannot exist without light and vice versa and how one nourishes the other. Fundamentally the truth of our true nature as human beings is coming clearer, that we are beings of light.
Participants in the course have been courageously wrestling with dark emotions of grief and loss, anger and frustration, and questions of identity in times of transition. These deep explorations are mirrored in their dolls, which morph and change, just as the participating artists relationships with these dark emotions shift and change. Monsters shape-shift into partners in growth. Deteriorations related to illness or aging are seen in a new way, as a pathway into acceptance of the full self. Continual change begins to be welcomed as the only reliable constant in life.
Throughout the course we have had guided visualizations, and one of the first ones was a journey to see the hidden light or gold within the shadow. It was very moving to see how brightly the light shone in these meditations and at the same time, how this light was gently held within the shadow. And this week we meditated on how the true self, that core of gold within, is held by both the shadow and the inner guardian. We saw again how closely linked these “opposites” are, not really opposites at all.
Meeting of Light and Dark, goauche and watercolor crayon in handmade journal by Erika
The Light within the Dark at the time of the Winter Solstice
It seems appropriate to talk about these things as we approach the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, in the Northern hemisphere. We usually think of this time as a time of short days. We wake up in dark and before our days are fully done, it is already dark. Yet, the solstice is also the time when the earth shifts and starts its journey towards light again. The pause at the fulcrum of this transition, can be seen as the earth taking a breath. And together with the earth, we can also take a breath, appreciating the wisdom of the dark and anticipating the coming of the light. We are reminded that, no matter how dark it may seem outside, whether because of the time of year, or because of what might be going on in the world at this present time, we can never get away from our true nature as a being of light.
More Guardians and Angels, goauche and watercolor crayon by Erika
The Meaning of Our True Nature as Beings of Light
Last week, in talking with one of the participants of the course in a private session, I said, “in some ways, I feel like I know less about the shadow than I did when we started,” and she laughed in recognition. One of the themes, running as a thread through these eight weeks has been the idea that once we come to a true place of impasse, when there seems no path forward, we are given the opportunity to discover a new way of approaching our problems. This is when we let go of the left brained thinking that is the most common way of approaching problems in our modern day world, at least among what Clarissa Pinkola Estes, of Women Who Run with the Wolves fame, calls, the “overculture,” and turn instead to a right brained more creative way of thinking. This way of thinking is less about “figuring it out,” and more about developing a comfort level with the uncertainty of life, with all the parts that don’t seem to fit, with all the ways in which our world feels “wrong,” essentially the shadow.
Once we begin this shift, we begin also to recognize that there is a part of ourselves that doesn’t change, no matter how dark we feel, and that is our inner true self, our hidden gold. There is a story about a treasured statue of the Buddha in Thailand:
In 1957 an entire Monastery in Thailand was being relocated by a group of monks. One day they were moving a giant clay Buddha when one of the monks noticed a large crack in the clay. On closer investigation he saw there was a golden light emanating from the crack. The monk used a hammer and a chisel to chip away at the clay exterior until he revealed that the statue was in fact made of solid gold.
Historians believe the Buddha had been covered with clay by Thai monks several hundred years earlier to protect it from an attack by the Burmese army. In the attack, all the monks had been killed and it wasn’t until 1957 that this great treasure was actually discovered.
We begin to discover our hidden gold or true light, once we release our hold onto the outer shells of our identity and rest into who we truly are, the bedrock of our being. And in so doing, we also connect to that golden light within others and in the world around us. And though this may seem like a small step, if we take this small step each day, we are adding golden light to the world around us. Our ability to renegotiate our relationship with our own light on a daily basis, can contribute in a small way to the healing of the world.
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!