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Healing Power of Women: Celebrating the 8th of March


Painting by Remedios Varo

Painting by Remedios Varo


Women have another option. They can aspire to be wise, not merely nice; to be competent, not merely helpful; to be strong, not merely graceful; to be ambitious for themselves, not merely for themselves in relation to men and children. They can let themselves age naturally and without embarrassment, actively protesting and disobeying the conventions that stem from this society’s double standard about ageing. Instead of being girls, girls as long as possible, who then age humiliatingly into middle-aged women, they can become women much earlier — and remain active adults, enjoying the long, erotic career of which women are capable, far longer. Women should allow their faces to show the lives they have lived. Women should tell the truth.


Susan Sontag

"The Double Standard of Aging" (1972)


Women as Healers


And last but not least, women are healing forces. Their role has often been overlooked, dismissed as secondary to the grandiose exploits of male figures. Yet, in the silent spaces of history, where whispers echo the resilience of the marginalised, we find a profound insight: women have always been the quiet, steadfast pillars of healing. International Women's Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to advocate for change, and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in their communities and countries. The date became significant in February 1908, when thousands of women who were garment workers went on strike and marched through the city to protest against their working conditions in New York City. Then in 1917, in the Russian capital of Petrograd, many protested demanding the end of the empire. A week later the Tsar abdicated.


Jeanne Achterberg's seminal work "Woman as Healer" and Carol Shepherd's "Women as Healers: Cross-Cultural Perspectives" are invitations to peer behind the curtains of time, to unearth the hidden narratives of women whose hands have woven remedies, whose voices have sung incantations of healing. 


The Whispers of Our Foremothers 


Women have historically brought priceless gifts of healing and hope to their families, workplaces, and neighborhoods, sometimes at great sacrifice. These are the women who, as counselors and clerics, artists and teachers, doctors, nurses, mothers, and grandmothers, listen, ease suffering, restore dignity, and make decisions for our general as well as our personal welfare. In excavating the historical stratum, the knowledge that was passed down through generations in the form of herbal remedies, soothing balms, and gentle words, goes into the intersections of illness, culture, and society. Jeanne Achterberg covers a narrative buried beneath the weight of patriarchal dominance, a narrative that speaks of women as the original custodians of healing arts. Achterberg's work illuminates these forgotten histories, where women brewed potions from nature's bounty, tended to the sick with gentle hands, and whispered incantations of solace. 


Since well before the day Mary Magdalene knelt at Christ’s feet, women have played integral, even if now, mostly unrecognised roles in the process and ritual of preparing for death and the afterlife. Looking back at some of the most famous death rituals in recorded history reveals that women's roles, and how they are appreciated and encouraged by those around them or undervalued and taken for granted, largely mirrors how women are viewed in all aspects of that particular culture and its society at that time. Ancient Egypt serves as a perfect example. "Women seem to have washed and cleaned the body at home before it was brought to the embalmers, and women were always employed as Kites of Nephthys for the funeral procession and at the tomb," explains Joshua J. Mark, an Ancient History researcher and historian with extensive knowledge of the rituals in Ancient Egyptian culture. At all stages of life, from birth to growth to old age to death, it is understood, accepted, and known that women will take on the role of care, whether in the nursing process or in rituals and rites. The problem arises only when women step outside of the pre-set boundaries within which they are expected to remain in that era and enter fields of power and prestige. Somehow a general amnesia washes over society and it has forgotten how women from all cultures have led armies and nations, es to war and victory, have ruled and reigned, have inspired through arts and philosophies, have been part of the creation myths, and have brought societies together through the healing arts and the birth and death cycles in Africa, The Americas, Asia and Europe.

 

Fate of the Wise Women


One of the very many wise women in the 20th century was surrealist artist Remedios Varo, through whose work she explored a feminist lens on the world. In the recently published book by Dennis Pottenger, "Alchemy, Jung, and Remedios Varo," the author offers a deep exploration into Varo as a Spanish-Mexican painter and Varo in relation to the concept of the "abjected feminine." Besides being a prolific painter, she was an alchemist and naturalist. She was interested in the occult and the spiritual world and was considered a proto-feminist artist, sensitive to a shared ancestral feminine consciousness and determined to free women from repressive patriarchal hierarchies, often illustrated in the repeated motifs of the cage and the tower. Imbued at once with a natural and cultivated understanding of opposites and union, Varo and her friends transformed relatively small and domestic experiences into colossal and universal ideas. She strove to reclaim and redefine femininity in a patriarchal society. Her artistic expression challenges traditional gender roles and explores the complexities of sacred female identity. Remedios created fantastical worlds where women are central figures, not merely objects of desire or passive subjects. Instead, they are powerful, enigmatic beings with agency and depth. "Abjected feminine" is a concept borrowed from Julia Kristeva's work. The abject refers to that which is cast out of the symbolic order, something considered disgusting, repulsive, or taboo. In the context of femininity, the abject often includes aspects of the female experience that are marginalised or suppressed. Her paintings depict women engaged in mystical alchemical rituals, navigating surreal landscapes, and interacting with enigmatic symbols. These images suggest a journey of self-discovery and empowerment as women confront and embrace the darker, more mysterious aspects of their identity. Together with her close friend and fellow expat, Leonora Carrington, they focused on soft power. 


After reading Robert Graves' "The White Goddess" in 1948, Leonora Carrington had a profound revelation. The book unveiled a universal narrative about the Earth Goddess found in cultures worldwide. It exposed the shift from ancient matriarchal societies to patriarchal dominance. This revelation fueled Carrington's art with feminist symbolism, reflecting stories of goddesses and heroines. She used her work to challenge norms around female sexuality and to tell untold tales. In 1972, she co-founded the Mexican women's liberation movement, hosting gatherings for passionate discussions.


To Heal the Wounded Soul


Was Buddha a feminist? Buddhism recognizes our interconnectedness, illustrating that we are part of a web of life where every thread is connected. Our collective well-being hinges on moving away from an ego-centric view that falsely perceives itself as independent. Denying interdependence leads to self-imprisonment, distorting the mind into reactive patterns of fear and desire. This generates a profound sense of lack, fueling futile attempts to control our surroundings. Understanding our interconnection introduces us to the sacred feminine, transcending gender. It embodies a receptive way of being with everything infused with consciousness. However, our current worldview has stripped the living world of its soul, rendering it lifeless. Patriarchy fears the power of Eros and suppresses the sacred feminine.


Reclaiming the feminine is aided by body-based awareness practices, like meditation connecting us to the felt experience of the body. This reveals our deep connection with the environment. When integrated with cognitive understanding, this intuitive knowing becomes authentic wisdom. Restoring the sacred feminine will invigorate Buddhism and steer our world away from destruction. In the dawn of the evolution of female consciousness, the roles women play in society are becoming a platform for reclaiming narratives and promoting intellectual discourse.

 

Where we are today The Eco Warrior


As Sharon Blackie shares in her book “If women Rose Rooted” If we genuinely want to contribute to the world, we of course have to do work on ourselves – but more than that, the work we do should ultimately empower us to reconnect with the earth – mother earth. That journey that Blackie refers to as the Eco- Heroine’s Journey requires us to “step back into our ancient, native role as guardian and protector of all forms of life”.. She calls on us to “re-root ourselves in our land, in our communities, to take responsibility for shaping the future, to bring back awareness of and respect for deep feminine values… It’s a revolution of belonging and it goes beyond simple environmentalism.”

The women who saved the English countryside with their conservationism like Beatrix Potter, Octavia Hill, Sylvia Sayer, and Pauline Dower are great examples of founding institutional establishments like the National Trust that bases its principles on guardianship and protection.


Today Blackie calls on us to look to contemporary women for inspiration, instruction, and a connection to the future. Women like Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement of planting over a million trees in Kenya, or London Barrister Polly Higgins who founded Eradicating Ecocide. Vandana Shiva, India’s best-known ecofeminist, is an environmental and anti-globalization activist who promotes a sustainable productive approach to agriculture through reinstating systems of farming that are more centered on women. The First Nations women formed “Idle No More” which recognizes Indigenous Ways of Knowing rooted in indigenous Sovereignty to protect water, land, and all creation for future generations. Women all over the world for all ages have risen again and again into the roles they have always played within their households or society at large and have come together to reinstate what has always been the role and relationship that death does not divide, they have re-engaged with the ancient feminine role, revealing the inextricable bond between the living world and the feminine.

 

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