With every struggle, every lesson, comes much wisdom. And with much wisdom comes much sorrow. But if we must take it to grow, we must take it. We may not be ready for it, or to face what comes next but we must. We cannot outrun lady death. To know the natural cycles of life and love, we must lay with her. We must go up against what we fear the most. We must die in order to be reborn. So my friends, do not be afraid to untangle the bones of fear. To lay with her, to embrace her, to have compassion for her. And to allow ourselves to be reborn.
My wisdom tonight is brought to you by the tale of the Skeleton Woman.
“To love, one must not only be strong, but wise. Strength comes from the spirit, Wisdom comes from experience with the Skeleton Woman”
The Dance of Body and Soul
Through their bodies, women live very close to the Life/Death/Life nature. When women are in their right instinctual minds, their ideas and impulses to love, to create, to believe, to desire are born, have their time, fade and die, and are reborn again. one might say that women consciously or unconsciously practice this knowledge every moon cycle of their lives. For some this moon that tells the cycles is up in the sky. For others it is a Skeleton Woman who lives in their own psyches.
From her very flesh and blood and from the constant cycles of filling and emptying the red vase in her belly, a woman understands physically, emotionally, and spiritually that zeniths expire and what is left is reborn in unexpected ways and by inspired means, only to fall back to nothing, and yet be reconcieved again in full glory. As you can see, the cycles of Skeleton Woman run throughout and under and in the entire woman. It cannot be otherwise.
Sometimes men who are still running away from the Life/Death/Life cycles of nature, are afraid of such women, for they sense she is a natural ally of Skeleton Woman. But it was not always this way. The symbol of death as a spiritual transformer is a remnant of a time when Lady Death was welcomed as a close relative, as one’s own sister, brother, father, mother, or lover. In feminine imagery, the Death Woman, Death Mother, Death maiden, always was understood as the carriers of destiny, the maker, the harvest maiden, the mother, the river-walker, and the re-creator; all of these in cycle.
Sometimes the one who is running from the Life/Death/Life nature insists on thinking of love as a boon only. Yet love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many many endings, and many many beginnings— all in the same relationship.
The process is complicated by the fact that much of our over civilized culture has a difficult time tolerating the transformative. But there are better attitudes with which to embrace the Life/Death/life nature. Throughout the world, though it is called by different names, many see this nature as un baile con La Muerte, a dance with death; death as a dancer, with life as its dance partner.
Way up in the Great Lakes dune country where I grew up, people lived who still spoke in the biblical dialect of thee and hast and thus. My childhood friend, Mrs. Arle Scheffeler, a silver haired mother who had lost her only son in WWII, still kept to this archaic prose. One summer night I dared ask her if she still missed her son, and she gently explained her sense of life and death in terms a child could understand. The story she cryptically called, “Dead Bolt” went in part, like this: A woman welcomes a traveller named Death to her fire. The old woman is not afraid. She seems to know Death as a life-giver as well as a death- dealer. She is certain Death is the cause of all tears and all laughter.
She tells death he is welcome at her hearth, that she has loved through “all my crops bursting, and all my fields falling, through my children borning, my children dying” She tells him that she knows him and he is her friend: “thou hast caused me great weeping and dancing, Death. so call out the rounds now! I do know the steps!”
To make love, if we are to love, bailamos con La Muerte, we danced with Death. There will be flowing, there will be draining, there will be live birth and still birth and yet born-again birth of something new. To love is to learn the steps. To make love is to dance the dance.
Energy, feeling, closeness, solitude, desire, ennui, all rise and fallen relatively closely packed cycles. One’s desire for nearness, and for separations, waxes and wanes. The Life/Death/Life nature not only teaches us to dance there, but teaches that the solution for malaise is always the opposite; so new action is the cure for boredom, closeness is the cure for loneliness, solitude is the cure for feeling cramped.
Without the knowledge of this dance, a person is inclined, during various still-watered times, to extrovert the need for new and personal action into spending too much money, doing danger, roping reckless choices, taking a new lover. It is the dummling’s or fool’s way. It is the way of those who do not know.
At first we all think we can outrun the death aspect of the Life/Death/Life nature. The fact is we cannot. It follows right along behind us, bumpety-bump, thumpety-thump, right into our houses, right into our consciousness. If in no other way, we learn of this darker nature when we concede that the world is not a fair place, that chances are lost, that opportunities come to us unbidden, that the Life/Death/Life nature cycles prevail whether we wish them to or not. Yet if we live as we breathe, take in and let go, we cannot go wrong.
In this story there are two transformations, one of the hunter, one of Skeleton Woman. In modern terms, the hunter’s transformation goes something like this. First he is the unconscious hunter. “hello, its just me. Im here fishing and minding my own business.” Then he is the scared and fleeing hunter. “what? you want me? Oh, I think I must go now.” Now he reconsiders and begins to untangle his feelings and finds a way to relate to her. “I feel my soul drawn to you. Who are you really? How are you put together?”
Then he sleeps. “I will trust you. I allow myself to expose innocence.” And his tear of deep feeling is revealed and it nourishes her. “I have waited a long time for you.” His heart is lent to create her wholly. “here, take my heart and bring yourself to life in my life.” And so the hunter-fisherman is loved in return. This is a typical transformation of a person learning to truly love.
Skeleton woman’s transformations take a slightly different trajectory. First, as the Life/Death/Life nature, she is used to having her relationships with humans end right after the initial hooking. It is no wonder she heaps so many blessings on those who will go the distance with her, for she is used to having humans cut bait and dash for land.
First she is thrown away and exiled. Then she is accidentally caught by someone who is afraid of her. She begins to return to life from an inert state; she eats, she drinks from him who as raised her up, she transforms herself by the strength of his heart, by his strength to face her. … and himself. She is transformed from being a skeleton into a living being. She is loved by him, and he by her. She empowers him and he empowers her. She who is the great wheel of nature, and he, the human being, now live in harmony with one another.
We see in the story what death requires of love. It requires its tear—its feeling—and its heart. It requires to be made love to. The Life/Death/Life nature requires of lovers that they face this nature straight on, that they neither faint nor feint from her. That their commitment to one another is far more than “being together,” that their love is based on their combined learning and strength to meet this nature, to love this nature, to dance with this nature together.
Skeleton Woman sings up for herself a lush body. This body Skeleton Woman sings up is functional in all ways; it is not the pieces and parts of woman-flesh idolized by some in certain cultures, but rather an entire woman’s body, one that can feed babies, make love, dance and sing, give birth, and bleed without dying.
We see from the story that the giving of body is one of the last in the phases of love. This is as it should be. It is good to master the first stages of meeting with the Life/Death/Life nature and let the literal body to body experience come after. I caution women do not engage a lover who wants to go from accidental catching to giving body. Insist on all stages. Then the last phase will take care of itself, the time of body union will come in its own right time.
When the union is begun in the body phase, the process of facing the Life/Death/Life nature can still be accomplished later… but it takes much more resolve. It is harder work, for the pleasure-ego must be dragged away from its carnal interest so that the foundation work can be done. The little dog in the Manawee story points out just how hard it is to remember what path one is on when one’s nerves are being thrummed with delight.
So to make love is to merge the breath and the flesh, spirit and matter; one fits into the other. In this tale there is a mating of the mortal and immortal, and this too is true in a love relationship that will last. There is an immortal soul-to-soul connection that we have little ability to describe or perhaps even to decide, but that we experience deeply. There is a wonderful tale from India in which a mortal beats a drum so the fairies can dance before the goddess Indra. For this service the drummer is granted a fairy wife. There is something like this in the love relationship too; something is awarded to the man who will enter into cooperative relationship with the psychic feminine realm, which is mysterious to him.
In the end of the story, the fisherman is breath to breath, skin to skin, with the Life/Death/Life nature. What this means is different for each man. How he experiences this deepening of her relationship with him is also unique. We only know that in order to love we must kiss the hag, and more. We must make love to her.
But the tale also tells how to come into cooperative and rich relationship with what one fears. She is just what he must lend his heart to. When the man merges with the psychological and spiritual as represented by the Skeleton Woman, he becomes close as he can be to her, and this causes him to be close as he can be to his female lover. To find this eminent life and love adviser, one only need stop running, do some untangling, face the wound and one’s own yearning with compassion, give one’s entire heart to the process.
So, in the end, in the fleshing-out of herself, the Skeleton Woman enacts the entire creation process, but rather than beginning as a baby, in the way westerners are taught to think about life and death, she begins as ancient bones and fleshes out her life from there. She teaches man to make new life. She shows him that creation is a series of births and deaths, She teaches that protectionism creates nothing, selfishness creates nothing, holding on and screaming effects nothing. Only letting go, giving heart, the great drum, the great instrument of the wild nature, only this creates.
That is how love relationship is meant to work, each partner transforming the other. The strength and power of each is untangled, shared. He gives her the heart drum. She gives him knowledge of the most complicated rhythms and emotions imaginable. Who knows what they will hunt together? We only know that they will be nourished to the end of their days.
From- Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D.