A Study in Bones

The following entry may contain triggering material.

I think I mentioned before that I’d read Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés when I was about eight-ish: my family had a copy on the shelf, it was a collection of fairy tales, kid-me thought…okay, a collection of fairy tales, I can totally read this. I wasn’t wrong, I read it all the way through without a lot of difficulty. Words I didn’t know could usually be figured out from context, and more adult concepts that I couldn’t have known sailed right over my head. I didn’t know to skip the commentary. I’d like to think that it imprinted on me an appreciation for meta.

And I remember how particular Estés was about Baba Yaga’s torch with the skull on it, and how wondrously emotive and plotless the dreamlike retelling of La Lorna who sang the bones back into a living wolf, and how futile it seemed for a battered wife to tame a bear for some magic spell to soothe her PTSD soldier spouse (it wasn’t a magic spell that the bear gave, but the skills to “tame a bear”, geddit? Geddit? — Beww! Not cool! Said eight-year-old me.)

I do not remember, from that very early reading, the Skeleton Woman. I’d recently been introduced to this story, though, and the reteller’s meta struck a chord with me.

First, THANK GODS I AM NOT TIGER LILY FICTIONKIN that had been so awkward to carry. My first quest-meeting (or, as Carl Jung called it, and Clarissa Pinkola Estés is a Jungian…active imagination) with Captain Foxglove the Fairy Pirate, that started with the sea creatures eating my fetch to the bones, echo more the archetype of the Skeleton Woman. I can’t even say Skeleton Woman shard or kin, because Jungian psychology and psychospirituality doesn’t have that vocabulary, but it’s probably something sorta maybe kinda like the referent…but not. I can say that I’m the Skeleton Woman because—in this Jungian paradigm, anyway—everyone is and has been, at some time in our lives, the Skeleton Woman, and the fisherman love interest, and the abusive father who turned a flesh and blood woman into the skeleton woman, and the NPC’s like the townsfolk. Each of us are all of them. That’s why Jungian psychology capitalizes Self, inclusive of our ego-self that we identify (or identify as), and of all life experience and the total subconscious psyche.

There is something to be said for applying principles and standards of a paradigm consistently, but the I get back into Jungian psychology, the gladder I am that I have been exposed to these eclectic philosophies. Familiarity with the paradigm of the kyriarchy has been immensely liberating and helpful to me; yet, despite its insistence on universalization, it has no place in this entry and that’s a good thing. Like Jungian philosophy, if it’s your only tool, everything looks like a nail when it’s not. Constructive. To apply. Actually.

I find this a lot in Shadow Work, how Jung frames any and all irritation, pang, pain, or trauma as an opportunity to examine the inner self for the underlying beliefs we hold to that cause such pain.

For instance: A grade-school classmate telling everyone not to talk to me because I had an absent biological father and I was therefore probably demonkin. Why was I so needy and entitled to the attention and conversation of such cruel and illogical peers? Why would I have bought into this idea of a model nuclear family as a value judgment on my own home life? Why did I not take demonkin as a kickass awesome thing to be accused of?

I’m sure the world would also have become a slightly better place had someone taken Trish aside and told her that she shouldn’t use her words to shape people’s behavior like that, or even put out the idea among us grade-schoolers that the Catholic figure of Satan wasn’t so literal that they could be classmates with Satan’s actual child. My inner world would have become a much worse place, had the questions in the paragraph immediately preceding this one had come out of self-loathing rather than curiosity. Like, the words might be the same, but the feeling underneath would be more: Why can’t I just get over it, why can’t I be more independent, my inherent needy nature is so annoying to everyone, the world would be better off without me, I’m a pouty bastard child like Jon Snow-nothing, Otherkin are attention-seeking special snowflakes and demonkin are evil to boot why am I… That sort of attitude or approach, I believe, would be disastrous; but the Jungian method is, I believe, sound enough that it ought not be thrown out the window entirely just because I myself personally could have very easily approached that Shadow Work in a self-harming way that would lead to all-consuming despair and suicide, or just because I might write a lot about the Jungian process but a lot of recovering the wounded inner child was just meeting more people later in life who weren’t colossal dickweeds. Such is life!

The story of the Skeleton Woman introduced to me something like Shadow Work, but the opportunity provided is more positive: upon attraction or desire, treat it the same way as a Jungian would treat pain or irritation—and look within for why.

3,000-ish words under cut about Captain Foxglove and me

Captain Foxglove and I didn’t break up so much as eased off each other. I really believe it’ll last, this time. He has his gold. I have my swordfighting skills. I’ve been considering him more like a captain and leader than a partner, he treats me more like a crew member than the font of a bubbling river of delight in his life. The galvanizing romantic chemistry is gone, but not so done that I wouldn’t blog about it.

The first phase of the story is the hook.

In hindsight, I still can’t name what hooked me beyond aesthetic. The feeling of “the hook” was there, like Estés’ fisherman thought of the snag—that immediate attraction. I position myself as the fisherman in the previous sentence, not as the bones, because it’s my response that acts the fishing hook.

The second phase of the story is the fisherman pulling up a skeleton (that he’d thought was a fish) and becoming so terrified that he rows as fast as he can away from her…not knowing that she can only be carried along with him, because he had neglected to undo the fishing line. There’s an idea among Twin Flame new agers that in every romantic relationship, someone must be “running” while the other is in “pursuit” or else there’s no chemistry. Jung and Estés (or at least, the interpreter who reintroduced us to an analysis of this story) serve as a reminder to bring this metaphorical relationship—in-story, it’s a metaphorical relationship—back to the inner personal development of the individual who is reading and living this out. When passion arises, is the ego-response to pursue the object of affection? Or is it to shut this feeling down, and run? The passion may remain irrepressible, but part of reining it in is inviting it to show more constructively: because it’s not really ever about the other person, but what we ourselves subconsciously believe about the other person. What does that mean to us? If we pursue, not who, but what about that who, would we be chasing? And what does that mean, or say about our own selves…that brings a broader understanding of our own humanity? The same applies if the impulse is to shut it down. We can perform shutting down, but the psyche would continue to generate attraction or passion (or even, in many cases, sublimate that to revulsion) because of something unacknowledged and unprocessed within ourselves. And it’s not who, but what about that who?

Captain Foxglove and I have gotten together and broken up again so many times in the past four years. He’s sassy and pragmatic, lives in the moment, and I love(d) that because as long as he is…I don’t have to be. I don’t believe I ever knew how to be. He’s both a healer and a fighter, so he has battle scars and lopped-off limbs, and he knows how to wear those injuries with pride. He has no insecurities about keeping up with the able-bodied Joneses, or being less of himself than he use to be; this is who he is now. And there’s something to be detracted about how he’s chosen to live, by rejecting the system rather than demanding the system change, rather individualizing himself as Captain Hook-for-Hand. Maybe I’m growing into that, and maybe that’s why I’m outgrowing him and our romantic relationship. But for the duration of it, this was the fishing line around myself as the Skeleton Woman.

As to why we break up, it’s because he came around at a time that I have zero to negative trust that any pain to any degree that anyone else caused me…could ever, ever be repaired. I mistrusted that anything that hurt me could be simply the way the world was, or the way people are who misunderstand each other. I shut down so often…and, my imaginary boyfriend kept sticking around. Why would my psyche do that to me? He embodies the way of the world, that yes, hurts, and even if someone (like…oh, I don’t know…me) has gone through so much pain and suffering should not have to go through more of that pain, for not even the slightest tiniest degree…for as long as there is life, that someone will. It’s on me to deal with it, because so much of what hurt me are the facts of the world, and the facts of people’s attitude and behavior. I was at rejecting the system, rejecting the world, shutting myself down against every mildly ablist or victim-blaming thing anybody else said because I couldn’t bear to keep that up for discussion. I was so hurt that everything became “in principle” as my suffering consumed me—I brought everything back to that, and thought that I was being right. Whenever Foxglove and I got back together again, I’d hate my (ego) self, because he’d said or acted in some way that hurt me, and when I say that’s not acceptable then I should mean it. As a Jungian Animus, though, Captain Foxglove is some part of me. I believe he was the dissociated part of me who could endure, and could take things as they were and everybody else being a (duh) different person, and may have even had—at least, represented—a longer-term plan for owning our place in the evil System of the world rather than deluding ourselves that we’d ever transcended it even ideologically. This is what I broke up with every time. This was what I was rowing away from, as the fisherman.

The next phase of the story is the fisherman’s sleep. In the story metaphor, sleep is an imitation of death. Confusingly, death is also sometimes a metaphor for a death that is not a literal death, but that’s for a whole other entry. Importantly, the fisherman goes to sleep only after realizing that the Skeleton Woman is just a bunch of bones that looks scary but won’t actually bite him if he doesn’t run. Rather than running, the fisherman faces the skeleton and follows the thread of the fishing line. The Skeleton Woman’s bones are rearranged in order, when they’d been jostled in his hooking and his panic to get away.

If he’d just banked his boat and dragged the Skeleton Woman into his home because he couldn’t leave his fishing line out, and didn’t know she was still attached, and didn’t even untangle it…he wouldn’t be able to sleep, because the Skeleton Woman is scary. The Skeleton Woman represents some deeper issue here, that universally nobody’s ego-self really ever wants to recognize and untangle. To remain awake and distrustful of the growth and maturity process, distrustful of that call to adventure, is an immature way to stay awake. Wait, did I write in a big ol’ circle and get back into Shadow Work? This was supposed to be Anima Work! We’re supposed to be unlocking the inner mystery of what in our innermost mysteriousmost human nature makes us happy!

Sometimes the question is: What did you neglect to untangle before falling asleep? While this process is couched in the metaphors of romance and sexuality, our lecturer made it clear that the dynamic applies just as well to relationships with family and friends. When I think about what’s neglected before untangling, I think about my unwed mother with two children, and how she would lay out the fine china and glass goblets every weekend and let the occasional electric bill fall by the wayside. Doing little things that makes you happy instead of waiting for a special occasion, that works for a lot of people…but all I felt from my mother was this roiling resentment that she couldn’t have the easy life that she grew up with; and maybe some regret that she couldn’t give that same upper-middleclass life to us, but also a bit of blame that because of us, she’d never be rich and free of worry. There are immature ways for the fisherman to sleep, just as there are immature ways for the fisherman to stay awake.

The sleep, as mentioned, can represent death and the transformative powers of it in the psyche (In the psyche, death can’t be literal.) The question of that is, what is the price that the psyche asks of loving this person? What must be given to death (in the psyche) so as to generate more life? Because that’s what happens, in the Jungian paradigm, when someone develops an attraction to someone else—ostensibly someone else, but probably more like an undeveloped part of the psyche that’s growing in development, and that means 1. love, even for another, is a process of relating to oneself, and 2. releasing aspects of the past self to a sort of death. Without introspection, it’s too easy to project this onto the object of one’s affection, as though another person requested or demanded such a sacrifice when no such communication occurred; and in Jungian psychology, even when the demand is put forth by the other, even when it’s fulfilled to the detriment of the giver that leaves one feeling like lifeless lint and ash…it was, in part, especially in the part that concerns Jung, due to some aspect or impulse in the inner world. It could, overall, be a maladaptive development—but the simple notion or impulse isn’t by itself smart enough to know that. Whole complex people don’t spring from the womb already smart enough to know that, not even after having lived a fair bit if there’s not been any call for introspection. And sometimes there’s what Joseph Campbell (who probably got it from Jung, but it’s Campbell’s face and voice I think of citing because that’s who I remember) calls an intolerable choice, where there is no single point of true-self to follow but several potential true selves and true values, and difficult point in life incite an individual to decide which aspects of themselves must lose. Even when a sacrifice turned out to be a waste, what was the hope? What was it feeding? That will pain the ego-self until it the story of it is addressed.

The final phase of the story is the Skeleton Woman taking the life force of the sleeping fisherman to grow her own muscles, organs, veins, nerves, skin, hair and stuff. The fisherman doesn’t lose life force from this, which I interpret to be a clue that it is the sort of love for which no emotional effort can possibly be a burden. Unfortunately, there’s a value judgment on that, that I think has earned some practical pushback. It’s become an ideal, but even when I throw out terms like maturity or immaturity, it’s always referring simply to the point in life where a person is, uniquely, in their unique character, and unique circumstances.

The question of this phase is how to live out love, whether that’s in a relationship or a self-actualizing process? A large part of me had to keep with the skepticism, but desperation that I’d confused for hope and faith would keep me thinking that Foxglove was corporeal somewhere out there, and we’d bump into each other by accident, and then he’d rescue me from all my problems in life. I don’t, actually, believe that having that in my mind really hindered me on the way to…not needing to carry that fantastical expectation anymore. I have had other infatuations along the way, and I will likely have future infatuations that I hope I can call true love; and in the life I pour that love into, I really believe from now on I’ll step up better than a distressed damsel.

How I would describe the gift within my relationship with Captain Foxglove…I feel as though I’ve lost my innocence. He’s a healer and a fighter both, as I’ve said, and in our interactions and learning/growing from him, I’ve become more like him. I would have wondered if it were a good thing, to heal so thoroughly that I don’t feel so identified as a victim or even a survivor anymore—or, really, as empathic to personal tragedies as I used to be. I used to absolutely hate when my Animus asked, “Well, what are you going to do about it?” But now I don’t have to be prompted: that question is now like my pulse. That’s not a the price of serenity and strength, it’s a gift that I’ve lost it. Maybe that’ll come back—I’m sure I’ll still remember what I’ve gone through, feel at least a ghost of a sting, and complain. But I no longer feel defined by the worst things that happened to me. In the best way, the Captain and I? Our love story is done.

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