Women’s Mental health and the Shadow Wound

The Cave of Shadows

Have you ever wondered
Where in your body 
Or perhaps your mind
Is tucked away

The Cave of Shadows?

And if the Keeper of the Cave (a fierce warrior by all accounts)
Would allow you in (or perhaps let them out)
Who or what might these shadows be?
There might be a tuneful singer
Who comes warily to the cave entrance
And suddenly shouts in retreat “But I cannot sing!”

And as you lie in the softness of dreams
You hear your own beautiful voice of song as it drifts from some dark cranny at the back of the Cave.

And here are the terrified/terrorised and angry ones.
The Keeper takes special care that they remain inside
They are small. Tiny and mis-shapen
They have the sneakiest ways of escape
And when they get past the ever-vigilant Keeper of the Cave (because they can).
They grow
Like a stain of ink in water.

Have you ever wondered who or what
Lives in your Cave of Shadows
And have you met the Keeper of the Cave?

The Cave of Shadows is the residence somewhere within your psyche and body of all those disowned, disavowed roles in you.

They reside – pushed into the dark as things that are fear full or provocative or unacceptable somehow. 

A cordial meeting with the Keeper of the Cave is a necessary venture if you wish to become intimate with the unconscious in your life. It is the work of a lifetime to bring the shadows of the unconscious into consciousness. Only then will we have a choice. 

We meet the Keeper of the Cave at the entrance to The Wheel of Woman’s Life.

That seasonal cycle that has mirrors and layers depicting the movement of the sun, the moon, the seasons, the menstrual cycle and indeed the movement and rites of passage of a woman’s life. 

I meet the Keeper at the time of Samhain (also known as Halloween). That point in the south west of the wheel that is the darkest and also the point that my ancestors (in Ireland) believed was the New Year beginning. I met her there.

You may meet her elsewhere in this organic measurement of time, this wheel. Samhain is marked in Australia at the beginning of May-it is the time when the veil between the worlds is at its’ thinnest and so makes sense to me that the Cave of Shadows would be at its’ most accessible. It is the time of Crone Woman- woman at ages of 75 plus (sometimes earlier or later as this wheel is not governed by the numerics of patriarchy- I simply offer a number as this is our “common” language at this time in Australia). Samhain is the beginning of winter and the end of autumn. And a time of deep rest and dreaming. 

As we travel anti clockwise (in the southern hemisphere- clockwise in the northern*) around the wheel , we come to the following transitions:

  1. Samhain, the New Year in the South West. A Crone transition. Deep dreaming. Winter.
  2. Yule (Winter Solstice) in the South. Crone time. Winter. In the darkness, the light is conceived.
  3. Imbolc (early spring) in the South East. Maiden time. Birth of individuation. New shoots.
  4. Eostar (spring equinox) in the East. Maiden time. Differentiation and uniqueness.
  5. Beltaine in the north east. The Lover. The first celebration of the Mother
  6. Litha (Summer Solstice) in the north. The Mother- family and the fullness of creation
  7. Lammas (Lughnasad) in the north west. The Maga- she who is after Mother and before Crone. The recognition and valuing of wisdom.
  8. Mabon (Autumn Equinox) in the West. The Maga- the Giver of wisdom to community

And so back to Samhain and the depths of the dreaming.

*again for the sake of the “common” language as clocks are a relatively recent patriarchal invention for the purpose of structuring our days. In the old language (northern hemisphere) clockwise is deosil  (sunwise or with the sun) and anti clockwise is widdershins, the opposite of deosil. Therefore, Deosil for us in the southern hemisphere is travelling from west to east via south and continuing northward from east until we come to west once again.

I have learnt to speak the language of Mental Health

In my work as a Counsellor/Mental Health Occupational Therapist, I must enter into relationship with Medical Practitioners and Medicare as well as other Insurance and Legal Institutions- these all bastions of the patriarchy. I have learnt to speak the language of Mental Health in these circles, including Diagnosis and Medication as well as Evidence Based Treatments. 

How can the Woman’s Wheel of Life support understanding and healing?

First I thought of the common “diagnoses” borne by people I see. Diagnosis is the labelling of an illness or problem so that treating practitioners can easily match the symptoms, with the diagnosis, and then with the standardised recommended treatment (often medication).

I am not an advocate of diagnoses, however like most things they have their place (as does medication which can be a life saver/life enhancer for people with mental health issues). I am told by a client who had been diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder that receiving a diagnosis gave validity to his unusual way of living and also helped him to navigate the often bewildering world of Centrelink. So I don’t dismiss diagnoses out of hand.

The gift of the wounding – as well as the pain

If I think about the Shadow of a Woman’s Wheel of Life, I am easily able to connect with the place where shadow may arise and this place on the wheel gives the ideas for treatment- we identify the wounding- that place where shadow is often born. And there is a gift of the wounding – as well as the pain. Where on the wheel might this wounding occur; where is the shadow born?

I have identified a shadow for each of the Sabbats on a Woman’s Wheel of Life– and each of these locations gives us clues to the Healing possibilities. There also clues to healing wisdom held at the opposite point of the wheel…

  1. Samhain, the South West. A Crone transition. The Shadow Wounding: Ageing, Grief and Death. Healing Wisdom: Mulching, Dreaming, Resting, Relationship. (Opposite is Beltaine)
  2. Yule (Winter Solstice) in the South. Crone time. The Shadow Wounding: Chronic Pain, Loss and Unwelcome Change. Healing Wisdom: Planting the seeds, Conception, Acceptance, Empowerment. (Opposite is Litha)
  3. Imbolc (early spring) in the South East. Maiden time. The Shadow Wounding: Uncertain or damaged identity, eating disorders. Healing Wisdom: Nurturing the seedlings, Differentiation and Individuation. (Opposite is Lammas)
  4. Eostar (spring equinox) in the East. Maiden time. The Shadow Wounding: Purposelessness. Healing Wisdom: Growing the Seedlings, Celebration of goals and exploration. (Opposite is Mabon)
  5. Beltaine in the north east. The Lover. The first celebration of the Mother. The Shadow Wounding: the wounded feminine, issues of gender and sexuality. Healing Wisdom: Passion, Body movement, self love, attraction. (Opposite is Samhain)
  6. Litha (Summer Solstice) in the north. The Mother. The Shadow Wounding: Dysfunctional intimate relationships and family, emotional and physical abuse. Healing Wisdom: Communication, Listening skills, Discernment, Love. (opposite is Yule)
  7. Lammas (Lughnasad) in the north west. The Maga. Shadow Wound: Anxiety, Depression, Addictions. Healing Wisdom: Community and Connection, Harvest life experiences (Opposite is Imbolc).
  8. Mabon (Autumn Equinox) in the West. The Maga. The Shadow Wounding: Guilt and regrets. Societal views of Menopause. Healing Wisdom: Letting Go, Giving Back. (Opposite is Eostar)
  9. The Centre: Where all things come together- life and death, joy and sorrow. The Shadow Wounding: Trauma. Healing Wisdom: Connecting, relationship, empowerment. 

I celebrate the Sabbats with a dedicated group of women. The Shadow is never forgotten.

The Cyclic Wisdom of a Woman’s Wheel of life is the touchstone for the work I do in the world. How someone presents the “symptoms” of Shadow, gives me clues of where to offer their beginning in their healing work. 

I give gratitude to my wisdom lineage for the learnings that come through in this article. In particular, gratitude to Jane Hardwicke Collings of The School of Shamanic Womancraft, Glenys Livingstone of Pagaian Cosmology and Kathy Jones of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple.

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