Dear Sister of the Heart,
I am just back from a wonderful workshop weekend with 40 mothers and their preteen daughters. On Friday night of the weekend, Eliza and I told the old Russian fairytale, Vasalisa the Wise: The Girl With the Doll in Her Pocket. We tell this initiation story at our workshop weekends so that the mothers and daughters can learn more about the portal they have approached or are fast approaching. You could say of our whole workshop weekend- and of our book- that Eliza and I are guiding these mamas to consciously walk their daughters through this portal of girl-becoming-woman.
In ways that my mother certainly wasn’t equipped to walk me, which has meant I have needed to complete, in midlife, my own incomplete initiation of girl-becoming-woman.
In the Vasalisa fairytale, Vasalisa’s mother dies: a distressing turn of event for a bedtime story, especially for 10-12 year-old girls who are curled up next to their mothers with pillows and blankets, on the floor of our workshop room. So we give them all a heads-up before we even start telling the story. And we suggest that they consider our interpretation of that death: that it is a symbol of the death of one stage of the mother-daughter relationship and the birth of the daughter’s independence. After all, on her deathbed, Vasalisa’s mother gives her a doll that she will always have to guide her when she is gone. And it’s important to know that Vasalisa’s independence is born out of her mother’s whole initiated and independent self- her mother had also received a doll from her mother in adolescence, just as her grandmother had from her mother and so on up the motherline.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes has said that this story is about handing down the blessing on women’s power of intuition from one generation to the next. This great power, intuition, is the capacity to know from the inside- to see, feel, sense and hear one’s way and one’s truth. It is a different kind of knowing than the left-brain rational knowing -also a great power- usually arrived at through logic. Intuition is a right-brained, body-based power that usually comes to us through the language of the body- a gut knowing. It has been less practiced than the logical knowing so clearly overvalued in our culture.
Did your mother bless your power of intuition in adolescence? Did she give you a doll? Did she find ways to mirror your inner knowing? It would have sounded something like this. “I am so impressed by the way you paused and really went inside yourself as you considered that decision.” Or: “Don’t worry that you misread your friend’s intent. You will learn from it and know next time. That’s the way you strengthen your superpower of intuition, by practicing it.” If our mother had been initiated in her power of intuition by her mother, grandmother or a mentor, then she would have been equipped to do the same for us: give us a doll to carry in our pocket. In essence, she would have given us a reliable sense of our own intuitive brilliance.
If your mother wasn’t initiated in this way, then you might feel that your adolescent initiation is incomplete. Like me, you might have looked urgently for “other” mothers. One of mine was my teacher, Jungian author Marion Woodman. Marion had completed her initiation in midlife, through life-threatening illness and a crisis in her marriage. She lovingly guided me, and other women, into wholeness.
This month, I am a guest teacher in Kimberly Ann Johnson’s online course MotherCircle. Most of the mothers in this course have babies and young children, yet, they also feel the same urgency around becoming initiated women, as the mothers of the preteens in our Mothering & Daughtering workshop.
One of the mothers in MotherCircle asked me how she could finish her incomplete inititation.
From a Jungian perspective, one is given multiple opportunities in their life to become fully initiated; especially if their family/culture did not provide any rites of passage or guidance in these matters of individuating/growing into full psychological and spiritual maturity at the different stages of life. Jung believed that our soul is actually seeking opportunities to wake up: to be initiated into our wholeness.
Jung defined fate as the stuff that happens to us, and destiny as how we choose to walk what comes our way. Fate is the parents we got, trauma that happened to us as a child, illness, accidents, near-death experiences, the children we have, breakups with friends, lovers and spouses (even if we choose those breakups, the fate is meeting and being with these people that come into our lives). Fate can be like the portal to the possibility of a full initiation- and destiny is how (or if) we choose to use the fateful events of our lives as an opportunity to wake up, mature and individuate: in essence, to become fully initiated.
The morning after we read Vasalisa, while the daughters have girl time in a separate space with Eliza, many of the mothers share how painfully aware they are that they did not receive the gift of a doll- a blessing on a woman’s power of intuition- from their mother during adolescence. Many share that they are scrambling to catch up with their own incomplete initiation, so that they can effectively mirror and contain their daughter. I tell them that Marion had given me the love and the psychological and spiritual framework so that I could consciously make the fate of my marriage coming to an end, the portal to my growing whole. I made wholeness my destiny.
I tell the women at the workshop, in the online course, and in my coaching practice to take a deep collective breath, and to not let the stress of being perfectly imperfect women and/or mothers overtake them. I remind them that their intuitive powers are very much alive and that their doll can and is coming to life. It got them to the sisterhood of the workshop, the sisterhood of the online course, and to my work- Marion Woodman’s lineage. They can use these containers to be held and guided, during the fateful events in their lives, and to be “mothered” into becoming the woman they needed as a girl. To finally be the woman living her destiny as she listens to and trusts the doll in her pocket.
Once you’ve gotten a chance to listen to the Love Letter, leave a comment below —