What happens when we become one person in the outer world, while our true feminine Self is buried below the surface? Like so many other women with this dilemma Annika Thomas, who is a designer of clothes, became over-identified with her persona. As she became conscious of this inner split, embarking on a quest for wholeness seemed like her only option. This book is the story of her dramatic journey to find, and embody, her true Self. Feminine Threads is an in-depth exploration of the Feminine and its connection to clothes and beauty. The personal threads of a contemporary woman´s life, as well as some of her experiences beyond time and space, are interwoven with impersonal threads of cultural, mythic, historic and psycho-spiritual perspectives. The richly adorned tapestry that emerges presents a deeper, holistic image of womanhood that helps us grasp the mystery of true Feminine Beauty.
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Thank you Connie Phenix and Katalin Nagy for being my true soul sisters and best Skype friends, and for providing such valuable feed-back regarding language as well as content of this book.
I also want to thank the rest of my awesome soul sisters;
Karin Karlsson, Christina Haraldsson and Kristina Lundqvist (to name a few) who have been my allies through some of the darkest nights of my soul journey.
I will always be grateful to my therapist Marie, whose emotional support and understanding was essential in my process of becoming more whole.
And Norea; your encouragement and unwavering faith in me means everything.
To my precious daughter Norea…
After your birth I gave you a promise. I so wanted you to be totally free to express your own uniqueness as well as experience deep, transforming love. But I knew those things would only be possible if the limiting patterns of our feminine lineage were broken. I was the one who needed to break them.
This book is the story of that journey. It is my legacy to you.
Feminine Threads is dedicated to the dark face of the Goddess, who resides at the depth of our psyche. We meet her as Ereshkigal in the myth of Inanna’s decent, the oldest known of all the myths about the descent to the Goddess. In Hinduism she is called Kali and she is much loved and honored. In Christian myth we find her as Lilith, the woman who was originally created as Adam’s equal. But Lilith became a threat in her power and unwillingness to succumb to a subservient position, and was cast out of Paradise as well as our collective consciousness. Eve, the feminine part that was molded out of Adam’s rib to serve as his helper, took her place beside him and has been idealized (as well as made a scapegoat) by our patriarchal culture.
The Feminine Principle is the feminine face of God and has been worshiped for thousands of years as the Goddess or the Sacred Feminine. Whether we call her Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte or Hathor, myth as well as history clearly show that she has been fragmented and thus robbed of power. Potent parts of this feminine wholeness have been twisted, denied and buried. But they have not vanished, because only outer forms can die. Below the surface of consciousness those demonized feminine archetypes still exist and have a strong pull on women, regardless of whether we can consciously relate to them or not. As we try to live up to cultural feminine ideals, those deeper feminine parts are neglected. Stuck in this pattern we might find ourselves pulled into inertia or drawn into periods of depression, where we feel like our life force is gone and life has lost its meaning.
In my own psycho-spiritual journey the demonized face of the Feminine first surfaced as a malevolent witch in art therapy during a severe life crisis. Ten years later she came forward in a self-development session as an inner part of me. Her immense power almost scared the wits out of me, but I was equally fascinated. It was totally beyond my understanding that this energy could be a part of my own psyche. As I dared the journey of exploring her energy and unique perception, she gradually transformed into a wild and mystical feminine part of me who seems to know every twist and turn in the dark labyrinth of our inner worlds.
This feminine Beauty is full of power and magic. Rooted in her inner knowing she is completely uninfluenced by the critique or questioning by others. She embodies the deepest roots of the feminine. The mystical processes of death and rebirth are her domains and her destructive face can be very scary. She doesn’t even remotely understand the need for security in our personal lives nor the different social masks we hide behind. This is the reason why she doesn’t consider them at all if, or when, she chooses to ruthlessly demolish the outer forms of a person’s life. We might see it as bad luck or fate, but it isn’t. It’s pure grace. To our culturally molded and limited minds it is difficult to understand her way of showing love. Yes, I say love, because what lies behind her apparent ruthlessness is really a very deep love. She only tears down what stands in the way of our true expression. What she defends and fights for is our innermost, naked Beauty; the divine seed that, put in an environment that’s just right for us, can sprout, develop roots as well as blossom in the outer world. She is our Self’s most powerful ally.
The true power and passion of the Feminine has been more or less hidden in the underworld for thousands of years. Reconnecting with the dark face of the Goddess might be a necessary journey for modern women, one of immense importance for our culture. It will transform our lives. As we find these ancient roots, and revitalize the Divine Feminine, balance will be restored on earth.
And this will make all the difference.
Filling the Mold
Setting the Stage
Spiritual Awakening and Worldly Success
Confusion and Insights
The Art of Communication
Matters of the Heart
Issues of Power
Relationship, Sexuality and Creative Quests
Security and Roots
THE SPACE IN BETWEEN
A couple of years ago I started my own blog. My focus was women’s clothing, with a mix of topics like beauty, fashion, femininity, feminine myths, textile history, the fashion industry and cultural development. Apart from my professional perspective as a designer I also shared parts of my own personal journey. Some topics like spirituality, myths and inner journeys might have seemed far-fetched to many, but on a gut-level I knew they were somehow intricately related to contemporary clothes. There were times when all these threads completely overwhelmed me, since it seemed like a giant mess of loose ends. Using the analogy of threads, I felt that there were knots on some, some were broken, some were just tiny fragments and some didn’t seem to fit in at all even though I knew they were there for a reason.
As a kid I used to see a tangled mess of threads as a fun and important challenge. Totally absorbed in the task of sorting it out, I would keep track of how the different threads intertwined and untied knots with never-ending patience. It was such a great feeling to get it sorted out. So, true to my nature, I persisted with my blog. I just focused on one thread at the time and the collection of written material grew. Often, when I looked through my blog posts, I was filled with a sense of anticipation. It was as if each was connected to an immensely dynamic core. Even though they might seem disconnected, I knew that they would (in some way I couldn’t yet grasp) show the way to a new way of relating to and using clothes.
Many years earlier the seed for this book came to me in a very symbolic vision…
I saw a collection of threads… They were feminine threads from different times and cultures. Unique threads that seemed incompatible in their extremes. Beautiful threads and threads I didn’t like so much… flashy, shallow threads and deeply mysterious ones… intimate personal threads and cultural threads… strong threads as well as frail… threads in different colors and textures. There was a deep knowing that despite their apparent differences, they had the potential to create something beautiful if they were connected and interwoven. I was shown another thread of golden color that ran through the cloth that had taken shape out of these unique threads, forming a specific pattern. The vision was clear… the tapestry that emerged would, in a symbolic way, provide material for new feminine clothes.
At that time in my life I was not yet ready to start writing Feminine Threads. It was too early in my own process and totally beyond my grasp how it could be embodied in clothes. So I put it aside and more or less forgot about it. But in the fall of 2012 I knew I was to put my blog to rest and move on. As I pondered what my next step would be, my Thread Vision came to mind. I saw how the habit of writing blog posts had actually been a way of sorting out the different threads for the book. Amazed, I realized that there were indeed both personal and cultural threads, shallow as well as deep ones and some I liked more than others. I hadn’t consciously planned it that way. I also saw that the posts about my own process had been a way to become more aware of my own personal journey. It was time to begin.
True to feminine awareness there is no single red thread or definite focus in this book. Many layers and dimensions are interwoven to create a whole. Some might focus on the unfolding of my own personal story or the intricate interconnections between mothers and daughters (and granddaughters). For others our common threads of feminine development, clothes and beauty might be the ones that stand out. And there will probably be those for whom the deeper note of an initiatory journey is the most compelling.
Using the metaphor of weaving, my own personal life forms the symbolic warp. It is interwoven with an impersonal weft of cultural, mythic, historic and spiritual perspectives on clothes, beauty and feminine development as well as some transpersonal experiences beyond time and space. With this format I want to illustrate how one individual life journey is woven together with development on a larger scale. I am a child of my time, with experiences from typical time-related themes, like a split family, an absent father, a mother who had to work hard to support us, sexual abuse, eating disorders, depressions and a very confused relationship to clothes and femininity. Tracing the steps of my life will hopefully shine a light on cultural symptoms as well as some of the specific challenges we might encounter on our journey towards true womanhood. It is my absolute conviction that our deepest journeys are collective. Our inner worlds are woven from the myths and dreams we all share. My process is not just my own, but is shared on a deeper level with all women. We might experience it with a slightly different perspective, and with a different intensity, but basically it’s a common process.
In the midst of our present day paradigm shift not much has changed yet in the world of clothes. There is definitely a growing awareness of ecology and fair trade, and many companies are doing great work on those fronts. But what about the design of clothing? Can the 1,7 trillion dollar industry of fashion be truly sustainable if it continues to create clothes that are based on old values and ideals? Can we find truer feminine ideals? Do we even need ideals?
There is a perpetual tension between outer form and its content. If the form (or system) becomes too rigid, too set in its patterns, too devoid of life, it has to break down in order to renew itself. This universal truth can be applied to a personal life, to clothing design as well as the obsolete system the fashion industry is built on. Somehow it needs to be imbued with fresh, vital energy.
Through my blog I sorted many threads. My new assignment is to weave them together in this book and to be perfectly honest part of me is overwhelmed by the task. Who am I to figure out how each thread would fit into the whole? And how can I weave them together in a way that makes sense? Deep down something tells me… It will make sense. And it will be beautiful. Out of all the things I have learnt on my journey, the most important is this: No matter what my outer circumstances are, or what my ego thinks about it, the reassurance of this inner voice is the only thing I really can trust.
And with this knowing I start weaving…
A deep longing to experience my feminine essence weaves like a red thread through the tapestry of my life. It led me on to different paths and many times I found myself lost. Time and time again I had to search my soul for guidance to find my connection to that vital thread again. This experience eventually led to an awareness of a deep split within myself. It was as if I had become one person in the outer world, while my true feminine Self was hidden below the surface.
During the years when I grew up there seemed to be an unspoken agreement in my family: Strong feelings, especially anger, should be held back. Instead we were expected to follow idealized patterns. You should be a good girl, one that was easy to handle. Now, when many years have passed, I understand how this attitude enabled unresolved conflicts, traumas and outdated coping mechanisms to be passed on. Since things that are held back and hidden in the dark is taken over by our children, we need to protect them, as well as future generations, by bringing things to awareness to be processed.
Many women might recognize the feeling of not really being able to express who they truly are, of not finding their real clothes. I believe this is common in our culture and that most don’t do anything about it. To me the split was too deep and too wide. It simply could not be ignored. I knew that I would never be able to have a fulfilling life unless I focused on healing.
Each rediscovery of my red thread was followed by a deep joy. But soon it became obvious that a grief, that was just as deep, was its companion. In order to reconnect to my feminine soul I couldn’t just follow my deepest longing and joy. Without confronting the grief, terror and rage that also seemed to be part of her, she would remain buried. Eventually I found books about feminine myths and ancient feminine mysteries. Several of these describe the feminine journey of development as a descent in different stages, where the worldly woman finally stands naked, face to face with the dark inner Goddess in the underworld. Psycho-spiritual work is always about peeling off different layers of the personality. It’s as if our unique soul is so hidden behind layers of conditioning and misconceptions that our normal eyes can no longer recognize it.
As I tried to make sense of scribbled notes about experiences, dreams and inner journeys in the process of writing this book, I suddenly realized how my own life path had followed this pattern of descent in several stages. Even though they were sometimes a bit interwoven, there was a definite underlying theme to each part of my journey. Honoring this ancient feminine wisdom as I tell my story, I have divided the text accordingly. The first chapter, Filling the Mold, describes my conditioning, how my personality and psyche was molded into a specific form by family, my closest environment and culture. In Setting the Stage all the necessary components and circumstances of my life are set in place so that I could begin to tread the life path, with its unique challenges, I had somehow chosen.
At a specific point in my life, I truly felt like an evolutionary impulse was ignited. It was followed by several life changing decisions which came to mark the beginning of my transformational journey. The following seven parts of the book mirror the different stages in the myth of Inanna’s Descent as she travels to see her grieving sister in the world below. In order to pass through each gate she has to let go of one garment (or attribute) at the time, and undress until she is completely naked. The garments she sheds are symbolic of the seven chakras1, the first of which is symbolized by leaving her crown and her worldly glory behind.
I understand these stages as different parts of an initiation2, where our consciousness is directed to specific life themes and challenges to clear dense energy. It doesn’t mean that we are totally free of problems, but that mayor blockages are released and that specific trigger points are made conscious. In our time spiritual initiations don’t follow the old form, where the initiate is guided by someone from a higher level of consciousness while hidden in a temple, pyramid or labyrinth. But the process still follows a certain pattern. Today we receive our specific challenges in our daily lives which is, in fact, much more difficult. It also takes much longer, since we are not always aware of what we’re going through and why. Regardless of whether we know it or not, we are definitely guided through the process.
The full cycle of metamorphosis changes the fabric of who we are on a profound level. My inner split began to heal. In a final state of total nakedness I had reconnected with my inner Goddess, my feminine soul, and there were no longer question marks around my identity. What remained was to create new clothes, so that the entirety of my Self could also be seen by the outer world. Seeing how a larvae retreats into a chrysalis to disintegrate and later emerges as a butterfly, or how a flower changes appearance as it goes through the different stages from bud to blossoming to withering, has convinced me that transformation not only changes us on the inside. Entering fully into true womanhood we simultaneously re-embody a blueprint of wholeness and as we do, the clothes we wear will simply have to change. How will they look? How will we relate to them when we no longer wish to fit into the standardized roles of society, or to express different facets of our personality? These are some of the intriguing threads this book explores. As it weaves through past and present, mundane and mystical realms, personal, transpersonal and collective, it will hopefully give you, as well as myself, a new holistic vision of Feminine Threads.
1 Centers of life force that correspond to vital points in the physical body.
2 A rite of psycho-spiritual development, where the initiate goes through fundamental changes, sheds different parts of the personality and opens to deeper knowledge. An initiation is often referred to as a process of death and rebirth.
What exists before a mother? Another mother, of course. And before her, yet another. Mother after mother after mother. An indivisible thread of increasingly shadowy faces. But you know they were there. And that, whether you are aware of it or not, your life is intricately threaded with theirs.
A Lineage of Powerful Women
The furthest back I’ve been able to see in the line of faces of my feminine lineage is my great grandmother Johanna. Even though her outline is a bit fuzzy, I do know she was a middle class woman and that she married Johan, my great grandfather, who owned a furniture store. They raised thirteen children, which was not uncommon in the latter part of the 1800’s. My grandma told me that her mother would scrub the floors, go upstairs to her bedroom to give birth to a new sibling and later return to finish the scrubbing. She seemed as used to her role as child bearer as being the caretaker of their home.
Johan and Johanna’s world was one of industrialization and technical development. After almost one hundred years of decline Sweden was booming. This was the onset of the consumer society. A bourgeois middle class appeared and peasant society was left behind. People washed off their rustic past so they could become proper and cultivated. Superstition, folklore and popular beliefs were replaced by rational knowledge. Elemental beings, supernatural things and even the work of wise elders were dismissed as nonsense.
Women were shut out from education, and the world of work and politics. Gender roles were very strict. A woman’s place was in the home and the general belief was that she was so fragile that she couldn’t handle what men could handle. It was accepted as scientifically proven. Women were also brought up to not relate to their bodies. A corset was used, which accurately mirrors how the social system tried to confine women. Some even wore it during night time. To be civilized meant to be distanced from instinctual life and hold back bodily urges like hunger and sexuality. Many married couples never even saw each other naked and didn’t sleep in the same room. Any expression of feelings or passion should also be held back. As instinct, passion, mystery and magic were all shoved under ground a collective shadow began to build momentum…
From the stories I heard, Johanna didn’t seem like a frail creature. Even though she might have been confined to the home, she was the natural ruler in that domain and the central hub of the family. She probably had to be strong. In the stories told by my grandmother and great aunts, Johan was portrayed as a very sensitive, generous and spiritual man, dedicated to helping anyone in need. He often brought hungry or lonely people home to their dinner table. His faith in God was deep. It was as if he held a key to a family trait that seemed lost with his passing.
Several of my great uncles had drinking problems and I can’t help thinking that there might be a connection between the spirit they sought in the bottle and spirituality. Even though they might have rejected their father’s spiritual legacy, they couldn’t as easily deny their own inherent sensitivity. Adapting to the increasingly hardening society must have been difficult. Their adolescence during the first decades of the new millennium coincided with a cultural trend where people started to value material things over spirituality. Religion began to turn into empty rituals. My grandma and her siblings still had their childhood faith, but to me it seemed very naive and totally without passion. And there was no hint of any mystery.
Johanna’s firstborn was a girl. Eight boys followed, two of whom died at an early age. Then four girls were born, my great aunt Elsa, my grandmother Gerda and my great aunts Ester and Aina. All of them were quite domineering, but not in any overbearing way. Like their mother they were strong women who knew what they wanted and were used to getting their way. They were in no way submissive. Ester died when I was quite young, but the rest of them were close to us when I grew up and were definitely formative forces to my budding identity.
My great aunt Elsa was the most dominant of the four youngest sisters. She didn’t marry until she was in her forties and had no children of her own. When she married she moved to her husband’s estate in the archipelago of Stockholm. What was odd in their relationship was that her husband had a tiny bedroom in the basement, next to the furnace room, while she ”resided” on the main floor. The distribution of value and power was as obvious on a surface level as symbolically.
These four sisters reached maturity during the onset of a development where women refused to be held back and started to demand equality. The corset was thrown out. Questions about gender roles and the subordinate role of women in society were raised. The nuclear family was portrayed as a prison for women and there was a growing awareness that women with many children were trapped in the home, trapped in outdated life patterns. Women wanted more personal freedom and one way to achieve that was by having fewer children. When it came to motherhood my grandmother didn’t walk in her mother’s footsteps, nor did her sisters. Elsa and Aina had no children, while Ester and my grandmother gave birth to one child each. They waited until they were 34 and 29 years old, which was very late at that time.
Just like her mother, my grandmother was the one to set the tone and control things in her marriage. Up until the day she died my grandfather was always a silent, shadowy person in the background, working as an accountant at a real-estate company to support the family and fixing things at his carpenter’s bench. Another trait that my grandmother and great aunts shared was that there was no display of any deeper emotions and no trace of any intuitive sense. Those faculties had been denied more than a generation earlier. Their feminine personas were dressed in the ideals and values of the developing culture. They had all adopted many masculine traits. They had become practical and rational beings, lost on the surface of things.
Even though my grandmother was dominant, she was also a very sensitive person. But it seemed as if she tried to deny that trait and was instead haunted by its negative aspects. She harbored some inner fear that resulted in anxiety and constant worries, which might have led to the stomach problems that eventually caused her death. One of the things that scared her most was thunderstorms, this awesome display of Mother Nature’s forces that shows us how small and out of control we really are. When there was a thunderstorm at night grandma would wake us up and tell us to run out to the car. We had to sit there and wait until it ended. We probably were safer there, but it still felt a bit extreme.
When my mom grew up she had to do many of the things grandma was afraid of and resented her mother for being scared of so many things. Grandma’s disowned parts were transmitted, so my mom moved to the opposite end of the spectrum, turning into a daring tomboy who was mischievous at school, climbed trees and knocked out teeth. Her friends called her Strong Birgit. Being an only child, with two childless aunts close by who adored her, she was also pretty spoiled.
At twenty-three she married my father and my older sister Lena and I were born. But my parents were definitely not a match made in heaven. Contrary to my mom, my father was very strict. The ideal for woman in the 1950’s was to be the perfect housewife who cooked, took care of the house, raised children and supported her husband. My father expected all of those things from my mom, but independent as she was and with a will of her own, my mother was a bad candidate for that role. Even though grandma was good at household things, my mom definitely hadn’t picked up on that. Having to cope on a meagre budget while my dad worked long hours, traveled abroad and was invited to luxurious dinners, added on to her frustration. Economically dependent on my father she was forced into submission, a role she was unfamiliar with.
My sister Lena was an easy child to raise. She learned fast and always listened to reason. According to my mom, she was also Daddy’s Girl. Mom felt left out and when I was born she decided I was going to be her child. Along came a sensitive, stubborn and hot tempered child who rebelled against fatherly rules. I remember being told that my father had tried to make me eat nicely with a knife and fork when I wasn’t yet two. Apparently I had protested loudly, wildly throwing knives, forks and spoons around, wanting to do things my own way. I believe this was significant for my relationship with dad as well as with society. My father did have very patriarchal values. In some strange way I feel as if I was called in to be my mother’s ally in a conflict that, on a deeper level, had to do with feminine uprise against patriarchal rules and values.
My father advanced in his career and was eventually offered a job in America. But my mom refused to go with him and the result was a far from amicable divorce. My sister Lena was five and I was two when dad instantly disappeared from our lives. My mom didn’t have any higher education, but managed to get a job at an office. When things settled down my grandparents paid for a live-in nanny who took care of my sister and me while my mother worked. To make it easier for mom my sister and I also spent all holidays at our grandparents, who lived 80 km north-east of our hometown Stockholm.
Grandma and grandpa meant so much to us. I’m not sure how things would have turned out without them in the background, providing a sense of stability and security. There was an enormous difference between our everyday lives at home with mom and at our grandparent’s. At home we were encouraged and expected to take care of ourselves to a high degree even when we were very small. We also had few boundaries. Under the supervision of our overprotective grandmother, on the other hand, most things were portrayed as dangerous and she kept a close eye on everything we did. She would have fainted on the spot if she had known that we snuck out in the middle of the summer nights sometimes, to go bathing by ourselves.
Staying at their summer house was like living in a totally different world. Grandpa took us fishing and showed us how to craft at his carpenter’s bench. With grandma, who was a true aesthetic, I entered a world of beauty and creativity. She made amazing flower beds, taught us all the different flower names and took us on walks in the woods in search for mushrooms and rare, wild orchids. Grandma always had some sewing, knitting or crocheting project going. Truly skilled at all the different textile techniques, she made hand-woven and embroidered towels, sheets and table cloths for Lena and me, that were put in a bridal chest.
Textiles and the Feminine
Textile craft has always provided a connection to my feminine roots. Ever since childhood I have loved to spend time with needles and threads, cloth and dye-pots. Weaving and knitting has been like a meditation.
Material, matter, mother… There is something in the feminine itself that seems so close to the textile world. Part of it may be a genetically inherited knowledge, silently mediated through a chain of feminine ancestors, that connects us to the earth and natural textile materials. A piece of cloth also evokes metaphors like threads of connectedness and the binding together of different parts to form something whole, which is also holy. To say that life hangs by a thread is a way of expressing how fragile our lives really are. The softness of a piece of cloth captures the sensitive and vulnerable sides of humans.
The spinning wheel is also a powerful symbol that has given birth to many expressions. An unmarried woman is still called a spinster. The spider got it’s name from spinning. In old Swedish you could say that you were related on the spinning side, referring to your feminine lineage. In Nordic myth the Norns - Urd (the past) Verdandi (the present) and Skuld (the future) - determined the destiny of all living beings by spinning the threads of life. A similar concept is found in Greek mythology.
In many cultures there are still widespread symbolic systems where cloth evokes feminine power. Mostly women work with textile production in the parts of the world where textile and clothing are still ingrained with deeper values.
Throughout Madagascar the lamba (a rectangular piece of cloth) – draped, wrapped or tied in different ways around the body – is the common way to dress. European clothing, and anything that is sewn, is prohibited during all forms of services, since the whole piece of cloth is connected to something holy. Besides hospitality cloth is the most important gift and the largest household expense after food and shelter. Among the Sakalava of Madagascar pieces of cloth with different patterns are essential to connect with spiritual energy. Relatives and friends are wrapped in handwoven silk textiles as they leave this world. Clothing the spirit is also important to the process of making their ancestors speak. …”When the spirit gets the lamba it wants, then it will come out. If it has not yet gotten the right lamba, then it will not reveal its name.”
In Indonesia, the traditional blue textile pattern called ikat is made by dyeing the threads before weaving. The patterning of the yarn is done by older Kodi women, who are also often practitioners of herbal medicine, midwifery and witchcraft. The most respected and powerful women are guardians of textile secrets as well as occult powers. The ritual offerings on behalf of both dye-pot and womb are strikingly similar. Expectant mothers and older female dyers also use the same herbs and barks to enhance their respective forms of productivity and women compare miscarriages to imperfectly dyed cloths. It is also common for cloth makers to interact with the spirits of their ancestral past, hoping to perfect their skills, acquire inspiration for new motifs and animate their product with a blessing. By careful attention to ritual, the weaver demonstrates respect for these sacred sources and reactivates the spiritual connection in the emerging cloth.
People throughout Indonesia and much of Southeast Asia perceive certain cloths, endowed with sacred qualities, as real treasures. This kind of wealth is seen as belonging to women while hard wealth (metal) belongs to men. To the Kodi there is a symbolic opposition between textile and metal, just as women to men. No man’s skill was confirmed until he had taken the head of an enemy and no woman was fully recognized until she had woven a pua. Values of conquering are hard as coins in contrast to the softer values of connection, spirituality and reproduction. As textile production started to be industrialized in the latter part of the 1800’s, social changes led to imbalances that distorted and suppressed these feminine, softer values. As market pressures reduced labor costs, female spinners and weavers were systematically paid lower wages than men. Women lost recognition for their unique contribution to the concept of human wealth. As harder values gained ground hard coins became equivalent to wealth. Textiles and clothes turned into commodities, with no connection to anything deeper.
The Door Closes
It wasn’t all sunshine and roses at my grandparents. My grandmother had been brought up with values that seem strange from a modern perspective. There was a prevailing feeling of shame around nakedness and sexuality. Strong emotions were bad. It was important to be restrained, to be nice and helpful, to be a good girl. To me it seemed so strange to act nice and hide what you really felt. I often rebelled against that and my passionate temper was not seen with accepting eyes. When I was angry grandma used to drag me to a mirror, point at my reflection and say: See how ugly you are now!
Like so many children my eyes were open to other dimensions. My secret world was most apparent when I was alone in the woods, so full of visible as well as invisible friends. The ants, frogs, snails, worms, the little people and other entities were my true friends. I felt as if they saw the real me and could let go of how I was supposed to be. I loved to play with the smallest animals and fairies, building miniature towns of mud, leaves and sticks for them. I could spend hours by myself in total oblivion. To other people’s amusement I would keep worms in my pockets. I remember making a small house out of a box for my ant friends, decorating it with furniture I made from bark. I even knit quilts to keep them warm. To my disappointment they didn’t seem to like their new home.
I used to reflect upon life. What if someone bigger than us saw how we wandered about in a miniature world, just like I did with my tiny friends? What if everyone around me were just shadow figures, that I could see and hear but who were not ”real”? What if I was the only one who really existed? Since I had no one to talk to about all my questions, I kept it all inside and tried to be like everybody else on the surface.
Looking back I realize how difficult it must have been to grow up in a culture with such outspoken demands on common sense and one single reality, if you were a child with a natural disposition to cross boundaries between different worlds and travel beyond ordinary states of awareness. In a time with little use for psychics, shamans, mystics or prophets there was no place for such children. To hide your true nature, do your best to fit in and to later on pursue some kind of artistic path, which was the only professional area where those traits could be useful, was probably the best option.
My first memory is traumatic…
I’m five years old and have just started kindergarten. I am standing with my mother in the street outside our apartment. Mom is late for work and has to run to catch her train. She tells me I have to walk on my own to kindergarten, which is not very close by. I am crying hysterically, completely terrified. The world feels overwhelmingly threatening and I would give anything to stay safely hidden at home. But my only option is to swallow my feelings, brace myself and cope on my own…
Another memory from these early years is my fear at night. I would lay awake for hours, with my body all tensed up, convinced there was a man in our apartment and that he would open the door to our bedroom any second. I was totally focused on being completely still, not making any sound so he wouldn’t hear me. All but the top of my head and eyes were hidden under the covers as I listened intently and watched the door handle. I had no idea why I was so scared. I just knew it would be the end if he caught me. I didn’t even dare to get up and cross the hallway to get to my mother’s bed or go to the bathroom if I needed to pee. Sometimes I even wet my bed and stayed in my soaked sheets all night since I didn’t dare move.
It would take several decades before I began to have glimpses of hidden memories and could start to unveil the roots to that terror. Really understanding why the doors to the magical worlds of my childhood had closed so abruptly would take much, much longer. But the doors had been closed and the highly sensitive child that I was had landed in a world that felt hard, cold and absolutely terrifying. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I was convinced I had to hide most feelings in order to be accepted and tried hard to succeed in being the good, responsible and self-sufficient child I was expected to be.
Some years later, when grandma had to go to hospital for her gastric ulcer, we spent the summer with our great aunt Elsa. She was a very warm and generous woman and I really loved her. At her place we were free to roam about with hardly any control at all. We slept in barns, built boats and paddled to small islands, where we set up camp. But Elsa still ruled with an iron hand and if someone strayed from what she saw as right and proper, it got ugly. This was something I was exposed to time and time again. If I voiced an inconvenient opinion or was upset about something that had been said or done, I was punished by being ridiculed and excluded from the circle of closeness and warmth. Part of the reason for our battles was probably that I was pretty headstrong myself. But it was more than that. Small as I was, and without any conscious awareness of what I would now label misuse of power, my gut feeling told me it was not ok to behave in that way. I was extremely upset for being exposed to this kind of treatment and frustrated over my inferior position as the youngest, which automatically ruled out my thoughts and feelings as stupid and irrelevant. I was powerless to stop the situation. It planted a deeply rooted feeling of not being seen for who I was nor my true intentions. What I said or did was instead twisted into something bad. That scenario seemed to repeat itself on my life path later on.
A Life on the Edge
Having a single mom who worked full time made us quite unique in the Stockholm suburb where we lived. Everybody else I knew had a stay-at-home mom, while I had my own house key on a string around my neck. My mother was watched with suspicious eyes by the other women in the neighborhood, especially if a male friend would come visiting.
Even though I didn’t see us as poor, my mother’s wages weren’t sufficient. I have a clear recollection of the kitchen counter where we kept our mail and remember how I always, at the end of each month, looked for The Letter that would bring money from my father. Many months it never came and a knot of anxiety grew in my stomach. From my child’s perspective there was no way of knowing we would be all right anyway. Having so little money contributed to a prevailing mood in our home of all work and no play. At that time people worked six days a week and my mother often worked extra hours. There just wasn’t room for any extravagance or taking time to enjoy life. The unspoken but clear message was to need my mom as little as possible and to not be any trouble, otherwise it would be too much for her. At times the pressure of coping on her own did become too much and mom would have a nervous break-down. Sitting beside her bed while she cried, trembled, and seemed completely out of reach for hours was so scary.
Mom often asked us not to tell others about our situation, as if living a slightly different life was something to be ashamed of. Her message was really: Whatever you do, hide what’s going on inside you. Pretend that we are just like everybody else. Looking back it seems absurd that we should be ashamed of our economic situation, or of having a different family constellation. But my mother’s attitude was in no way out of the ordinary at that time.
My sister and I had few boundaries. Mom trusted us completely and often complimented us for being so good and grown-up, which clearly communicated what she expected from us. And we were good and grown-up. When I was only eight and Lena ten years old we even traveled to Denmark on our own and stayed in a house mom had rented for ten days before she joined us. To us it seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do. We were expected to cope and did. But I remember that onkel Wilhelm, the man from whom we rented the house with that big, scary dog, invited us over for lemonade and cookies one afternoon. He asked me to sit on his lap and even though I didn’t want to, I had too much respect for adults to refuse. Then he started kissing me on the mouth. It was awful and I managed to wriggle out of his embrace. I remember being so conflicted, knowing in my gut it was not ok, but being too well behaved to make a scene. Lena and I handled the situation politely. Nothing more happened, but it so easily could have. When we left his house, his big dog ran after me, pushed me to the ground and started humping me while holding me tight. Unable to get loose I was terrified and deeply ashamed.
The Less Valued
Lena and I received presents for birthdays and Christmas’ from dad. They were really bought by his new wife, his former Swedish secretary that he had brought with him to America. Now and then a letter also arrived. He always praised my sister for her great achievements in school and it was obvious to me that Lena was his favorite. The first years at school I did very well too, but it became very clear that being more of a creative child definitely wasn’t as good. Even though my father wasn’t physically present in my life, I was definitely shaped by not being able to live up to his standards. There was always a longing to some day be seen and approved of by him.
Still, I was quite happy. I had many friends. When I was nine I was accepted to a school for musically talented children in Stockholm, which meant traveling from the suburb to the city every day. My new class-mates became like an extended family and we had such great times together. We sang on the subway, formed little bands and performed in concerts. I played the guitar, wrote my own songs and dreamed of becoming the new Joan Baez.
None of my new friends lived in our neighborhood, so now and then I came home alone with the subway after dark. I used to brace myself for the walk from the station to our apartment and tried to make myself as invisible as I could. Terrified that some man would follow me I used to run as fast as I could, heart pounding wildly, with keys ready in my hand so I could get inside as fast as possible. My fear of that shadow man never seemed to fade.
One night the phone rang. I could hear from my mother’s way of speaking that the call was out of the ordinary. It turned out that my father was in Stockholm and wanted to see us. None of us had seen him since the divorce, which was more than seven years earlier. I was nervous and scared. Seeing my father was so strange. I recognized him and yet he was a total stranger. We had dinner at Sheraton where he stayed and it was all quite awkward. I was already sure that my sister was his favorite and his lack of interest in me seemed to confirm that fact. After dinner we went to his room to look at some pictures of our half sister Susan, who is four years younger than I. He went on and on about her very high IQ. This made me feel even more worthless, like I was truly the odd one out. I just tried to be polite like my mother had told me and hugged him when we said goodbye as I was expected to. It would be six more years before we would see him again.
A Feminine Role Model
My grandmother often made clothes for us, which was common at that time. Usually she made the same for Lena and I, so when mine became too small I was always handed down an equal pair. It was extremely annoying. I remember being so jealous of my sister when she was big enough to borrow clothes from our mom.
I loved to sit by myself, day-dreaming and drawing beautiful women, and started to make clothes for my dolls early on. When Barbie arrived on the scene I was ecstatic. Playing with her and making clothes for her allowed me to dream of becoming a woman. When I was around eleven my clothes started to be more important. Part of it was that I really loved nice fabrics and beautiful things. But there were other reasons. Not feeling valued for who I was, I tried to compensate by looking good on the surface. There was also a deep feeling of being inherently different, of needing to learn the right codes of behavior. The right clothes helped me fit in. We were always on a tight budget, so buying a lot of clothes was out of the question. Luckily I had learned to sew at a young age and became quite good at making my own clothes.
I used to love watching my mom dress up for special occasions. Even though she had her hair cut short most of my childhood years (which was unusual back then) and often wore pants, she could still be very feminine when she wanted to. I could hardly wait to become a woman myself. Like most little girls I really looked up to my mother. I wanted to be exactly like her when I grew up. Strong, independent and confident in a man’s world. Young and unaware as I was, I still felt like something vital was missing. But my naive way of dealing with it was to search for feminine role models in magazines.
In many ways my mom was a good role model. She was among an early group of women who challenged society regarding women’s independence. I grew up with a basic feeling that equality was natural and actually never felt inferior professionally as a grown-up. This is rare for my generation, even in Sweden. Mom was truly on the leading edge of women’s development. But it came with a price. The strong women in my lineage were totally lost when it came to the deeper facets of life. Without any connection to those feminine roots, I felt deeply insecure.
The True Feminine
So what are those roots and what does feminine really mean? Is it equal to being soft, sensitive, nurturing, submissive and adaptable? From a patriarchal point of view those are certainly the ideals for women, but as I see it, it’s an outdated way of looking at gender. To grasp what the feminine really means, we need to look deeper.
Embedded in the psyche of women, as well as men, there is an inner duality. The two principles are best studied through the concept of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy. These poles are complementary forces in a dynamic system, interacting to form a greater whole. They are interconnected and interdependent. One gives rise to the other and inherent in each of them is a tiny part of the other. Yin is the unseen, the hidden, while yang represents what is seen and manifested. Yin is dark, cold, moist and passive while yang is light, warm, dry and active. Yin, or the feminine principle, is instinctive, unconscious and irrational. It deals with intuition. The masculine principle yang is consciousness, logic and rational intelligence.
I have come to see feminine and masculine as a difference of awareness rather than opposing characteristics. A masculine awareness helps us focus in on details. In that process things, as well as traits, are separated from each other. It’s a prerequisite for logic and language, and is connected to the left hemisphere of the brain. Feminine awareness, on the other hand, is diffuse. It sees the whole and how everything is connected. It weaves things together. Boundaries between things are blurred out, which makes it easier to grasp a bigger picture. The feminine can thus relate to several layers of an issue at the same time, without any need to split them up, or prioritize. In feminine mode, we are not even limited by time and space. That helps us grasp complicated interrelationships and processes which would be impossible to explain in a linear, logical way, or proven scientifically. The feminine is a holistic and process oriented consciousness, not just a set of traits on one side of a duality. What splits things up and upholds boundaries is an imbalanced masculine perspective.
In his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, Leonard Shlain proposes that the development of writing and reading was what drove cultures toward left-brain thinking. He argues that this shift upset the balance between men and women and initiated the decline of the feminine. It also ushered in the reign of patriarchy and misogyny. But through media and computers we are more and more surrounded by images, which speak to the right brain. Leonard Shlain believes that the images in art, design, film, TV and graphics are reconfiguring the human brain and that this will help bring about the reemergence of the feminine. I believe that there is also a need to take a closer look at the content of those images.
Whether we are identified with a masculine or feminine consciousness, or are becoming balanced so they can interact, affects how we perceive everything, including spirituality. The masculine searches for light outside of himself and finds it in a distant heaven, whose opposite is hell. True to that mode we pray to an abstract and perfect God, who is an authority. We live according to ideals and have distant goals.
Feminine spirituality is connected to an inner knowing, where our own Soul and Spirit is the authority. We are an intricate part of wholeness/holiness, a link in the deeper, awe-inspiring processes of life, where birth/death, gods/goddesses and wo/men cannot be separated. The feminine connects us to the mysteries of life and our everyday world is imbued with spiritual essence. Nature is spiritual. There is a spiritual side to sexuality, to Beauty. Our roots in the underworld signify our affinity to unconscious processes which, like a messy compost, continuously transforms psychic material to provide nourishment for new life.
The feminine is in no way exclusive to women. But there is one crucial gender related difference. The feminine principle is embedded in women’s genes and bodies through intricate hormonal and reproductive processes. Whether we are aware of it or not, those codes are imprinted in our souls, which makes it our natural vantage point. The true feminine forms the roots from which we are nourished and out of which we grow. Can we really call ourselves women if we are unconnected to those roots?
Women have carried the stigma of being scape goats for twisted feminine qualities in patriarchal culture for thousands of years. As the true custodians of those qualities we are the only ones who can transform them.
A New Constellation
My mother had advanced in her job and now worked with informative films for TV, which was inspiring and more well-paid. She had lots of unusual and interesting friends of all ages and nationalities, who often filled our living room. She seemed happy.
At twelve, just before I entered puberty, my mother met a man called Canage, who was from Sri Lanka. One day she told us they were getting married. I was devastated. Mom, Lena and I had had our home to ourselves. Now that was to end. In the beginning it was awful to have this strange man in our home. I felt exposed and unsafe. The entrance of a new person also changed the foundation of our small family unit. Not only did we leave a 100 % feminine group for one of mixed gender, but in came an exotic man, who was not very stable. Interesting and creative as he was, Canage was also somewhat unpredictable. It wasn’t all negative, though. Laughter, as well as extravagance, also found its way through the doors of our home.
Even if I didn’t understand the dynamics of energy in a family back then, I had felt like the odd one out. It was as if I carried traits that weren’t valued in our family. My sister Lena had always been ”the good one” whom everybody praised (at least from my point of view). She had very high grades in school, was well behaved, even-tempered and responsible. She was never any trouble. I, on the other hand, who was a dreamer with a hot temper and wounds from feeling less valued, sometimes was. I did quite well in school, but found most subjects, except for art, music and languages, awfully boring. But now someone entered into our family who actually did value those denied traits. For the first time in my life I felt seen and equally important.
Marriages beyond racial borders were still uncommon in the mid-sixties and were part of the taboos my mother’s generation helped break. It made our family even more unusual. Heads were turned as we passed in the streets and people whispered behind our backs. My new step-father worked for a horse racing magazine. Mom and Canage bought the magazine and my mother left her job. Since Canage was not a Swedish citizen she took on the role of legal publisher and CEO of their company. Instead of focusing on her own budding professional development, my mother now became the accountable supporter of somebody else’s dream. This was not a very good move.
Ever since I understood that our choice of men mirrors our own internal balance, my mother’s second marriage has intrigued me. Some say we tend to choose the same kind of men, who bring similar reactions and issues to the surface. In my mother’s marriage with my father there had been an obvious polarization of male versus female traits. My mom had not been treated as an equal and I can understand why she needed to break free. Along came Canage, who was almost the opposite of my father. This time around she took on a very different role. It now seemed like my mother was the one who carried the masculine, while her new husband embodied many feminine traits. Canage, who was deeply emotional and at times unpredictable, actually seemed to need someone to provide structure and security. In many ways my mom took on a parental role. Was there an issue around chaos and control? Did my mom take control because of fear of being controlled? Did she fear chaos? Regardless, it seemed as if life forced her to confront the negative aspects of repressed parts of herself. A negative spin was set off that would affect the rest of her life.
Longing for Womanhood
My journey into puberty was awkward. I was still small, thin and flat when my friends developed boobs and was upset about that. Needless to say, the day when I finally got my first bra was a big moment. I still remember the store, how the bra looked and how I felt when I first put it on. This tiny garment seemed to mark my transition into womanhood. Later on, when I experienced my first blood, my mother just provided me with a set of practical and hygienic instructions. There was no awareness of what it meant to become a woman in any deeper sense. We talked about sex quite openly, but this too was mostly matter of fact and had nothing to do with feelings and experiences.
Even though I was very confused about what it meant to be a woman, it was still exciting to me. There was so little feminine energy in our family and the role models I found in fashion magazines were just shallow images without content or any feeling of presence. But it was something and all I had to go on. Like for so many other young girls my focus started to change. How I looked became much more important than how I felt. I guess that’s what happens without strong and grounding feminine roots, connecting us to something deeper.
I really loved to dress up and used to plan what clothes to wear for different occasions far in advance. But I didn’t really try to express myself. I don’t know if this was due to self-esteem issues, but it always felt important for me to project an image of who I wanted to be. I used my sensitivity to put feelers out. What was the ideal look? I mimicked the looks of others and became aware of fashion trends. Maybe I felt at home on the leading edge of fashion because my mom had always been in the forefront of development.
Clothes made me feel less vulnerable. But some days the garments I chose failed to provide me with the safety I needed. I vividly remember the mornings when I would change clothes again and again. No matter what I tried on I still felt terribly naked. I didn’t want to leave my room and my stomach would ache when I thought of going to school. I so needed something to make me feel more secure in order to cope with the outside world and was totally convinced that I would feel ok if I just had the right clothes. It was as if they were some magic transformers of identity. As a true aesthetic, colors, shapes and styles were much more potent than words to me. I knew they could convey subtle nuances about who I was that could never be expressed through
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