Edinburgh Book Festival
Women of all ages packed the hot tent, many of whom wore the British uniform of the middle-class therapist and healer; loose cardigans, curls and long scarves. Tendrils of openness to other dimensions. A few brave men were spotted between them to hear psychologist, storyteller and novelist Sharon Blackie talk about her latest book, If Women Rose Rooted, on women reclaiming their rightful power after years of destructive patriarchy. I was interested to know who was fully supportive of the dismantling of patriarchy and where that left them as male supporters. Perhaps some had been dragged along by fervent wives or simply to make their presence felt. And perhaps that was being judgemental and unfair.
Sharon was like an unassuming priestess who regularly accessed various states of consciousness. She was attended by two ‘handmaidens’, chair Charlene Diehl out of Canada, with a predictably measured and soothing accent, and the BSL interpreter Linda adding the spatial dimension to their spoken words, with her fluent and expressive signs. Blackie, with her gentle manner, first drew us into the mythic tale of the kingdom of Logris, a Celtic story that had wound its way from Wales to France. In a nutshell, a power-crazed king ravages the maidens who guard the well, leading to destruction on a large scale. A story that harks back to a time before patriarchy, an idea which is so ingrained in almost every area of the world, it’s often difficult for people to either imagine or accept. A time when, as she said, women held moral and spiritual authority, the land was in balance and people lived in harmony. She is urging us to break free of the ‘collusive madness’ of capitalistic patriarchy, a system that creates a wasteland both within and outwith ourselves. She had come to these ideas after a nervous breakdown, as often happens, but has clearly emerged calm and grounded, with a greater understanding of our human condition. Rooted.
She emphasised that as British people we don’t need to look abroad for native, spiritual wisdom such as Buddhism and Native American wisdom, but to reconnect with our own rich Celtic mythology. Her new book is a clarion call to women to take up the mantle of leadership once more, not just in order to reclaim our own power and full humanity, but because we are facing catastrophe on a global scale. She suggest three areas that would help women along this path. The importance of rooting to a place that you are living in, even if you were not born there. To explore, learn and connect with the area of earth that you inhabit, with the flora and the fauna. Having connected with nature, bringing its wisdom to the unconscious in order to dissolve false dualities; mainly the limited identities that we cling on to; experiencing ourselves as separate from nature.
She talks about rejecting the dominant themes of a hero’s journey with conscious femininity. Rather than slaying the dragons, befriending them instead. A theme that rings out in all compassion-based therapies and spiritual traditions. A discussion ensued about the idea of true strength lying in recognising your own grief in order to heal it. How the individual struggle to heal is linked with the collective. Living in rural Ireland has opened her eyes to the Celtic tradition of being linked with the land at a spiritual level is still strong. Just like native aboriginal traditions in places where people revere the land, seeing the world as enchanted. Her message is the strength we gain from that connection. If we only listened to the earth’s intelligence we could rise rooted like trees. She offers a message of hope; an invitation, a challenge. That whatever your starting point, you can indeed find your path.
Sighs emanated in a wave from the women in the audience as one of the men underlined the need for violence and war against attackers, and the importance of having men as warlike protectors in this regard. Thank the Goddess that this question had come at the end of the session, avoiding the need to expend precious energy in justifying pleas for self-preservation as women and deciding to choose a (literally) radically different path. Women reclaiming their rightful power is not the same as attacking men, she insisted. It’s all about preserving the balance, she said with a slightly weary smile, wanting to keep him on her side. It is a conversation to be had, yes, but for another time. I used to stare in awe and awkwardness in equal measure at the eco warrior women at demonstrations who had had enough and weren’t afraid to express the grief of the entire world. They would sing and wail against the destruction of the planet, the psychopathic destruction of all of us. Now that the chaos is spiraling out of control, it’s never been more urgent for all of us to lift our voices up, either a wail or at least a soft whisper in the call for a better world.
Reviewed by Lisa Williams