She lives | An interview with Jean Shinoda Bolen

Bolen: Yes, and I’d like to say two things in response to that. One, the psychology and theology that come out of patriarchy begin with the assumption that babies are born evil; that they carry “original sin.” But current research shows the exact opposite is true. A lot of research being published out of UC Berkeley says that every indication is that babies are neither born evil, nor are they “a blank slate” upon which Mom writes pathology. Rather, they come into the world as individuals and they are very, very vulnerable. They need to be held, to be cared for, and they seem to have an innate instinct to withdraw from people who treat others badly.

So, we’re born into this world with a right and a left brain; with archetypal influences that are common to all humans—which is to say that we all have the same potentialities, but we each have a different mix. We’re not all as artistic, or as athletic, as some, but we’re each capable of some artistry or athleticism. We develop those abilities that are nurtured, or cultivated. So whether that’s intellect for girls, or empathy for boys, we all have human traits that our culture can value and cultivate to encourage us to be whole people. As long as there is a culture that denies the legitimacy of certain qualities, those qualities will atrophy.

Again, going back to the book of Genesis, the reason that Cain killed his brother is that Yahweh disdained his gift. Abel was good at one thing—he proudly brought Yahweh the fattest portions of his newborn lambs—and Yahweh was pleased. Then Cain, equally proudly, brought the fruits of his agriculture, his produce—but Yahweh “disdained” his gift. When the brothers went out into the field, Cain, who had been disdained—or another word might be “shamed”—killed the other. So it was favoritism in the patriarchal hierarchy that said—from the very beginning, from our cultural creation story—“You can’t be different and be equally loved.” This has set off our history of fratricide, and also of discrimination, inequality, injustice, and so much additional suffering.

As a result of favoritism and prejudices, assumptions of superiority and inferiority of gender or skin color become part of the belief system that then become culturally or self-fulfilling prophecies.

When resources are scarce, as they are in many developing countries, parents may give more food to the boy hoping that he will be healthy and grow strong and help provide for the family. Pretty soon, however, the boy is going to feel superior to his sister, and ultimately entitled. In many parts of the world, this is compounded by denying women choice and control over their reproductive capabilities. Then families have too many mouths to feed and not enough mother to go around. Mother may have been barely older than a child herself when she began having children. In such families, girl children are not as well-nourished or healthy or educated. Girls marry young, and have children young,

No matter how much a mother loves her children, if she is disempowered and cannot protect them in a household where she and they are abused, her sons and daughters grow up mistrustful of women and contemptuous of the weakness of women. Along with this, they devalue feminine qualities, especially when there is no divine feminine, only a divine and powerful masculine.

The MOON: You’re a physician; an M.D. How did you become interested in the divine feminine?

Bolen: I came into this world with a very spiritual nature. Being brought up in a Christian world I had experiences of transcendent spirituality and I did feel blessed. I also had a profound sense that God was loving. So much of what I’ve learned and have been able to do since has been a result of being born and educated when I was. I graduated from medical school in 1962 and was in my residency in psychiatry between 1963 and 1966—the very years that the new ideas of the women’s movement were emerging. That made a huge difference. The women’s movement’s criticism of Freud made it possible for a young graduate in psychiatry at the level of clinical instructor—me—to be asked to teach women’s psychology because the male “experts” on women were Freudian and recognized that perhaps teaching penis envy and the natural inferiority of woman would be challenged.  In another synchronicity, it so happened I was at the only residency program in the United States where I could have a Jungian analyst as a supervisor. There weren’t very many of them; we were randomly assigned them; and through a stroke of synchronicity I was assigned one. Once I discovered Jung—who did value the feminine—I wanted more.

So how I got here had to do with being born when I was born, and educated when I was educated. The women’s movement paved the way for me, and I was introduced to Jung’s psychology, which offered an alternative to Freud. Jung  delved into the spiritual and creative elements in the psyche, and brought in liberal arts and aesthetic references. Jungians also work with dreams and myths. I wanted to learn more and applied to the Jungian Institute so I could. My studies revealed the feminine archetypes–and the historical goddesses–that have been so missing from western culture and spirituality.

The MOON: You are a champion for another United Nations World Conference on Women…Why?

Bolen: Because it would do an amazing job of energizing a global women’s movement. The only thing that has been really been effective at elevating women’s issues has been an active grassroots women’s movement capable of influencing political decisions at the top.

The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 influenced an entire generation of women who are leaders of organizations, activists, or involved in their governments now. While the UN was officially meeting–and producing a wonderful document, The Beijing Platform for Action–the 40,000 women who attended the Forum—the informal part of the conference—were also meeting each other, finding role models and inspiration, sharing strategies, art, and rituals, forming friendships and alliances. These 40,000 women then went back home to their respective countries energized and strengthened, knowing they were not alone, and lobbied for action. It was a process of consciousness-raising and empowerment—a true global sisterhood.If a Fifth UN World Conference and Forum could convene in 2020, it would again serve to energize another generation. My hope is that the conference would be held in New Delhi, India, which could accommodate twice the number of women who attended the Beijing Forum. And with our various recording devices we could share the experience with women who couldn’t be there physically. We have the technology to create simultaneous conferences all over the world–which could enable women to really make a quantum leap in terms of rebirthing the feminine, which I believe is essential to the world’s prospects for peace and sustainability.

The MOON: Why?

Bolen: Women who stand together for justice and peace are a moral force. Without women having a place at the table where all the major decisions of the world are being made, decision-making gets stuck in old paradigms. I think of peace talks where the peace table is another place to win or lose. Contrary to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, there are typically no women at the table, or as now, one woman at the talks between Israel and Palestine. It’s really the women who are committed to achieving the larger picture for the sake of the Earth and our children.

Women’s circles with a spiritual center can accelerate humanity’s shift into a post-patriarchal era. Circles build upon what women do naturally—form relationships, find common ground, nurture each other—and have brought about major political and social changes. Women in small groups grew into the Women’s Suffrage movement, which gained women the right to vote in 1920. Women in small consciousness-raising groups led to the women’s movement of the 1970s. Christian and Muslim women coming together brought peace to war-torn Liberia—and also brought Africa’s first female president to office. Catholic and Protestant women coming together in the background of official talks brought peace to Northern Ireland. A “Millionth Circle” movement of women’s circles with a spiritual center could change planetary consciousness. Circles are egalitarian in form and give each woman in the circle an opportunity to find and develop her voice and her way of taking action. In a circle, women sit in quiet meditation or silent prayer and connect spiritually–with each other and with a larger collective or morphic field of women in similar circles across time and space.

I’ve seen the power of this type of grassroots movement through my involvement with the anti-nuclear movement. It is why I wrote the book, The Millionth Circle: How to Change Ourselves and the World. The millionth circle was inspired by “the hundredth monkey,” the story that sustained anti-nuclear activists in the 1970s and 1980s to continue on when conventional wisdom said that nothing—and certainly not ordinary people—could halt the nuclear arms race between the superpowers. It’s based on a very simple premise: that when a critical number of people change how they think and behave, the culture also changes, and a new era begins. Theoretical biologist Rupert Sheldrake is responsible for the morphic field theory on which this is based. Jung’s “collective unconscious” is the same as Sheldrake’s morphic field for the human species. Malcolm Gladwell also wrote about a similar type of geometric progression in The Tipping Point.  “The millionth circle” is a metaphoric number; it is the one that tips the scales.

I am convinced that a UN Fifth World Conference and Forum would energize a global women’s movement through the connections women would make with each other. The circles that would result from this would have a huge ripple effect–activating the divine feminine for the healing of our world. I’ve lived long enough to see that when paradigms shift, people who once thought things “would always be that way” because they “always” had been, find out that new ways are possible. In fact, new ways suddenly become the status quo. Right now the two shifts we really need have to do with peace and sustainability. People say, “Oh, we’ve always had war,” but the fact is we can choose. In the Iroquois Confederation a vote of the elder women was required to decide whether the confederacy could go to war—with the result that wars were very few and far between.

The MOON: What about people who say they’re worried that fundamentalists might roll back the gains that women made—at least on paper—as a result of the Beijing Conference?

Bolen: Those people are worried about the formal UN Conference; that fundamentalists might succeed in watering down some of the goals of the Platform for Action. But I believe that what women would gain by the opportunity to come together on a massive scale in the Forum would outweigh whatever our potential losses might be. A new document comes out of every major UN conference. The climate change conferences are recent examples. Each one is a historical document. They often refer to previous documents, but each is its own. They are not treated like the American constitution with a procedure to amend it. All 193 member-states of the UN have been asked to report back to the UN about how the women in their countries are doing regarding the twelve areas of concern. It seems reasonable to predict that there will be reams of paper and millions of words to say that, for women, some things are better, others are worse or much worse, and that there is much to be done before women are empowered and equal.

The MOON: What recommendations might you have for people—men or women—who want to reconnect with their divine feminine?

Bolen: I think that readers of The MOON are likely to have the archetype of Artemis active in their psyches, and through her, find it easy to reconnect with an aspect of the divine feminine. Artemis was the Greek goddess of the Hunt and Moon who, as an archetype, was expressed and liberated by the women’s movement. Her values and actions are those of the feminist. She may have been a Girl Scout, at home in the wilderness and in nature. As twin sister to Apollo, Artemis feels equal to men and can compete with them. She roamed with a band of nymphs as companions and is drawn to being in a circle of women friends. Armed with bow and arrows, she was the archer with unerring aim, and is that part of a women who can focus on a long-term goal, and hit a target of her own choosing. Artemis was also a goddess of the moon. Seeing by moonlight brings out a sense of the Great Mystery, a perspective of Oneness also shared by indigenous native Americans. Seeing by the moon’s reflected light also symbolizes an inner capacity for reflection. Artemis was the only goddess who came to the rescue of her mother and punished the giant who tried to rape her. From the moment she was born and saw her mother in labor with her twin, Artemis became her mother’s midwife. Artemis is yhe Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman, that part that will not be subdued, or tamed, or accept an identity as victim, no matter what. She was the protector of adolescent girls and  the young of all living things. She is the archetype of the activist, environmentalist.

The archetype of Artemis—who was called Diana by the Romans–is also that part of us who responds to nature—and it’s “Mother Nature,” we’ve always called her that. The divine feminine also has to do with beauty. When you respond to the beauty of nature you start to care about what’s happening to our oceans, and our trees, and the habitat for wild animals. Beauty, love, and soul go together. All of this is a response to the divine feminine. So one of the easiest, best ways to appreciate the divine feminine is to respond to nature—which for many people requires spending enough time in nature to shift your mindset, so that you’re living in the moment—in your environment—not caught up in your thoughts.

Another way of connecting to the divine feminine is valuing and respecting the feelings and experiences of others, or having empathy. Too often our patriarchal culture calls empathy weak. “Don’t be a weak sister!” is a chastisement for refusing to witness cruelty.  However, it takes courage–or fierce compassion–to stand up for victims of bullying when it can be  a risk to do so. But the divine feminine has an ability to be in the present; to see and respond to what is there; to appreciate beauty and want to protect it—including what is beautiful about that which is different; and to appreciate the vulnerable and want to protect and nurture them.

The Moon: What about direct experiences of the Divine Feminine?




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