Masculine and Feminine

Today I awakened with strong memories of an image that went straight to my core when I saw it 17 years ago on the island of Iona in Scotland. It was my first of several trips to that island which became a place of pilgrimage for me. It is, truly, one of those places where “the veil between worlds is very thin.”

Let me say that at that time I was a woman minister, in a strong role for a woman and comfortable with it, and was in a marriage that was also strong and happy then. I had been fortunate to have very positive role models both male and female that taught me very much. I was not a woman suffering with gender issues that I was aware of outside of the subliminal messages that the culture in general, not necessarily me in particular, was working increasingly to make conscious.

When my guide and mentor on Iona, the lovely Vivienne Hull, took many of us on a hike over the hills across the island, we ventured to the place known as the Cliff of Streams. This is a rocky cliff of great height that drops straight down to the ocean below. As we approached it, even before I knew what I was seeing really, something entered me and I fell to my knees and stared, feeling thunderstruck, in awe. The rocky cliff has hundreds of little enclaves or platforms upon which nests were built with female birds sitting upon them – looking upright, serene, dignified, focused, purposeful. A thick sea of the male birds were flying, also hundreds of them, all around the area, swooping about looking for fish or feed to bring home to their nests. They were active, powerful, full of purpose, moving constantly with grace and harmony, none running into or interfering with the other. It was a such a powerful sight.

This, I later realized, was a huge ah-ha moment for me, though I still don’t know what the moment actually means. I only know it has stayed with me as one of the most holy and strong visions of my life. I so wish I could paint it.

We have multitudes of strong male and female archetypes that express the diversity of qualities in each gender – Athena, Artemis, Hera, Aphrodite to name a few of the feminine ones; Zeus, Dionysus, Apollo, Hermes in the masculine. I don’t know how to explain the simplicity in this image of the birds at the Cliff of Streams that seemed to inform me of something more foundational at the ground of masculine and feminine qualities of being and consciousness. I thought of women in frontier or indigenous times that stayed with the children, raising their machetes to cut the soil, plant the crops, harvest, feed, protect and raise their offspring while their men went out to hunt, or trade, to bring back goods and information. There was a natural order in this, not one gender being weaker, or one more important than the other, just each having functions that biologically, even in their DNA, created particular mandates and strengths.

Certainly, as a Jungian, I am a strong advocate for the awareness that every human, no matter the gender, has both male and female sides that must be developed, that need to thrive and become conscious. Not living on the frontier anymore we have the freedom to explore the interchange of roles in household and workplace more fully. Some of us have stronger female sides than male sides and vice versa, no matter what gender we are born to.

All of that being true and important to me, why did the sight of those birds on Iona go straight like an arrow into my heart and soul? Before I could even begin to form ideas or concepts around any of it something primordial, primary and sacred penetrated me in an instant.

I do not know. I have recently thought of leaving my nest here on the mountain, to go out and hunt and search for feed, maybe to resettle in a more urban environment that will support that need differently. I know, though, that what I do well and instinctively is stay near a hearth listening deeply to the psyche of nature, people and the world, tend to dreams, nurture, feed, grow, explore and protect spaces of heart and soul.

I talked with a friend today about my thoughts and the sense of dilemma I feel. She suggested maybe I should consider staying more committed to the nest, not to leave it. And I wonder, can I develop a strong enough masculine spirit that flies out to do the hunting and bring home what will feed the work here, as well as a strong enough feminine spirit to sit serenely, hatch eggs, be present to this without fuss and worry?

Those birds keep talking to me. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the end of what they have to say.

One Response to “Masculine and Feminine”

  1. Darita-Rose Alden Says:

    Thanks for this. What I love about it is the almost stark vision of yin and yang. It helps so much to use these terms from a non-Western culture, because they don’t have a lot of charge or concepts on them. We are more than biological creatures, we humans. And yet we are born into bodies, male or female. One thing it says to me is that Jung was correct in his view that gender is not entirely constructed. I think we make it harder than it has to be. We are moving toward androgynity in a way, and yet, we get to do what we were born to do, too. For me it is a great privilege, being female and bearing my children. Part of my bodhisattva vow is to come back in a female body as long as it helps the world in some way

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