I’d never heard of this book until I started my online book club, but one of the members said it was their favourite inspiring book when they signed up, so I added it to the ever-growing list of suggestions for us to read. Then it started appearing all over social media (to me anyway!) and the lovely Jayne who runs Red Tent Worcestershire mentioned it too. I took it as a sign it was something I needed to read, and that needed to be now!
The book is described as “a life-changing journey from the wasteland of modern society to a place of nourishment and connection.” I mean who doesn’t need more of that in their life?! And yet another sign that this book was for me – connection – my word of the year for 2018.
I didn’t really know what to expect; everyone I came across was saying this book was amazing, so I started to worry that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. I needn’t have worried. Parts of this book really spoke to me, like I was remembering stories I used to know and lives I used to live. It described everything I’ve become frustrated with in my own life and my desire to escape the “corporate” world and find peace in other things. Many of the messages in the book aren’t brand new, and I know that some of my book club members found parts of it a little repetitive. But for me, it didn’t matter that they were concepts I’d heard before. This book cemented that knowledge and attached it to stories that spoke directly to my soul. This time the message has stuck. I don’t think you can easily go back from that awakening.
The book starts off talking about women having little voice; essentially being there to have children and that’s about it. That this has been happening pretty much forever, along with the suppression of the truth and power that women hold. Our stories have been hidden.
“if we rise up rooted, like trees....well then, women might indeed not only save themselves, but the world.”
There’s a lot of discussion on the role of women in modern western society, and how feminine traits are deemed unacceptable. It talks about nature becoming a resource to be used, seen without value if it’s not something that can be used. It made me think about Natural Capital – a project that features in Defra’s 25 year plan. A project that aims to assign a value to the UK’s natural resources. If it helps people to understand that the planet is valuable, then I’m all for it. I just can’t help but wonder how we’ve got to a place where we need to prove the planet’s intrinsic value – surely we should just know that and want to protect it? Instead we’re in a place where we need government organisations and public bodies to tell us how important the planet is. I find that so sad!
There's a big discussion on women becoming more masculine, and I know that’s exactly what I and many other women have had to do in order to be seen as successful. To compete in a male-dominated world we have few other options. This is exactly how I feel and exactly where I don’t want to be.
“But when women seek success and equality in a male dominated world, then in order to achieve it we must act like men, play by their rules and, if they design to allow us, join their societies and institutions. We are judged by masculine criteria for success and inevitably we fall short, because we are not men. The best we can ever hope to be is not-quite-men, not quite good enough.”
The book also talks about consumerism and how we just keep consuming more and more, blinded by advertisements and thinking the latest craze will fill the holes in our hearts. It won’t. Connection is what we need. There’s that word again – connection.
What really spoke to me was the Celtic mythology discussed in the book. It all felt so familiar to me, and whether that’s because these are stories I’ve heard in the past, or I’ve learnt about similar stories with different names, I don’t know. I just know how it feels – like its awakened something within me, someone that lived and breathed these stories. Someone that helped to pass these stories down the female line.
In the Celtic stories shared, women were in positions of power and authority. That changed when monks started writing stories about the Goddesses, portraying them in a negative light or reducing their importance.
“It’s time for women to reconnect with who we really are, to listen to our hearts and rekindle the stories of old. We all have this power within us, and with it we can save the world!”
In chapter three, the story of the selkie seal woman is shared, talking about how she was forced to remain a woman and how lost that made her feel. She eventually finds her way back to return to her life as a seal, but not as the same person she had been before. I devoured this story. It spoke to me about how we’re all searching for those lost pieces of our souls because we don’t feel like we belong. That’s exactly how I have felt, for a very long time. No specific reason for it, just feeling like something isn’t quite right. Trying to be something I’m not, and knowing that doesn’t work.
“But sooner or later, no matter how cleverly we try to hide ourselves, to turn away from the truth, we are called to change. To wake up and to see, and so to take responsibility. To reclaim our power, and to participate in the remaking of the world”.....”it is a call to rise from the half sleep of our existence, and to take part in the great unfolding of the world. To become a Voice of the Wells. We must answer the Call, or forever be lost in the Wasteland.”
Yes! Is this a call to action or what?! My call came by getting ill- this time anyway. There have been others along the way, some I’ve jumped into with open arms, others I’ve run from, feeling too much fear to follow despite knowing the place I was in at the time was all wrong. Nobody else can help, you have to save yourself or accept being half of who you are, wearing the patriarchy’s skin.
“But the choice of hers: to lie in bed and die, or to rise up, and find a new way to live.” “We must shake off the false skins we’ve cloaked ourselves in; we must let the old die to make room for the new. We must be willing to detach from who we have been, what we have become, before we can discover who we are really meant to be and what our work is in the world.”
There’s a chapter called “deep caves”. When I opened the page I had an instant fear in the pit of my stomach. I love and hate caves. I remember being fascinated with them as a child, but the confined space and darkness fills me with panic. Where does that even come from? This feels like the section of the book I need to work on, to get past that fear and learn whatever it is I need to learn next. I need to look into the depths of my shadow and face whatever it is that’s still hidden. Maybe I haven’t fully cracked open yet – and you have to, otherwise the light can’t get in.
“You’ll realise then, if you have not learned it before, that darkness is not simply a lack of light. Darkness is a alive, and it’s life is obscured by light.....darkness is the voice of the shadow, a voice which words can only fail. Listen. Is it the drumming of your own heart that you hear, or the long, slow heartbeat of the earth?”
But this chapter shares some more of the old stories, of the ones I know deep inside myself. The story of Ceridwen (who has come up in the full moon group I go to in the last few months). The story of Mis who “goes mad” when her father dies an becomes the original wild woman.
“....that inability to endure the unendurable, forces us to challenge our old values, and in particular, the materialism on which our culture is founded. We are highly likely to be left feeling isolated and bereft; we may sometimes be left falling apart.”
She talks about leaving her old life behind and it taking two years to get to the cottage in Ireland she dreamt of. How that was moving from the wasteland to the otherworld where she would discover the importance of place. She moves several times – from Ireland to the USA, then to the outer Hebrides and back to Ireland. All in search of that connection to the earth and life she imagines. She compares this to the traditional “hero’s journey”, but states that it is different to the “heroine’s journey” which is focused on building community, connection and working with others. Ours is not to continue to fight, but to follow the path that calls out to us, and even if (when!) we fall off that path to continue to be true to ourselves.
Parts of the book reminded me of the recent #MeToo movement where she talks about a variety if issues, including the “commodification of the female body…is in fact the last way men can defend themselves against women claim their power.”
“There comes a point in each of our lives when we face a choice. Will we stay as we are, embracing the pale shadow of womenhood permitted us by the patriarchy? Or will we sink deep into the heart of the bog, and find out what it is to reclaim our creative power as women?”
The whole section on creativity instantly made me think of book club member and all round creative goddess Jennifer Cockcroft. Jennifer believes everyone has a creative side, even if you don’t realise it – she helped me find mine last year so I know she’s right!
“...Lucy’s belief that creativity is fundamental to women’s way of being in the world, and that creativity is a revolutionary act.”
It’s described as an essential part of being a woman – and I agree! I feel so much more alive since I reconnected to my own creativity! They also link it to our menstrual cycle, and that’s something I’m only just starting to explore for myself.
I love the idea of the creative rainbow mother they introduce - it really resonates. Loving motherhood, but not really fitting the full on earth mother stereotype. Needing to have space, time to just be. Allowed space to create.
“The creative rainbow mother regularly feels the need to fly free. And if she can’t......well the flip side of her is the crazy woman: depressed, unable to touch her power, tied, numb.”
This book isn’t all about the rise of the feminine to a place of power, replacing the patriarchy. Instead it asks us to find a balance between both masculine and feminine. Working with the planet, not against it.
“Only when shiva (consciousness, masculine) and shakti (creative, feminine) combine can creation arise”
Whilst talking about the importance of place and our need for a place to anchor ourselves, I don’t believe the intention is that we all read this book then decide to walk away from our current way of living and escape to the middle of nowhere and live off the earth (as attractive a prospect as that is at times!). Its about finding a place where we feel a real sense of belonging and connection. Connection to ourselves, the land, other people. Conscious connection all the way!
“How many times must we make what seems to be the same journey, spin round and round what seems to be the same circle?.....the answer was beginning to become clear to me: until you learn.”
It’s also about finding our calling, the thing we’ve always been heading for whether we know it or not. Becoming a wise woman and sharing our wisdom, being valued as a “tribal elder” not disregarded because society believes older people have little or no value.
“To step into your power means to trust yourself, your instincts and your intuition. To let the fear go, and the shame, and tell the stories which need to be told.”
This makes my soul sing and my ego tremble. This is exactly the place I want to be. I have glimpses of it, but I’m not fully there. This year that changes. I’m consciously connecting with my true self and welcoming the strength and courage to step fully into my power.
“This path forces us first to examine ourselves and the world we live in, to face up to all that is broken and dysfunctional in it and in our lives. Then it calls us to change- first ourselves, and then the world around us. It leads us back to our own sense of grounded belonging to this earth, and asks us what we have to offer the places and communities in which we live. Finally, it requires us to step into our own power and take back our ancient, native role as its guardians and protectors. To rise up rooted, like trees.”
So yes, I loved this book. It came into my life at the perfect time. It’s one of the most impactful books I’ve read in a very long time. Every page feels like an awakening. Remembering things I didn’t know I already knew. In places it made me cry from the sheer relief of the realisation that everything in it speaks so clearly to my soul. I know this book will be one I come back to time and time again.
Have you read this one? Did it resonate?
Come and join the conversation, and our next book by signing up to #thebooksthatshapedme online book club. This book really has been one that’s shaped me!