Earth Mothers and Wild Women

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What does it mean to be ‘natural’ or ‘wild’? Are these qualities, on an archetypal level, associated with women? Can we recognise the archetypes of wild women, incarnating freedom and desire, or earth mothers, here to nurture, who are ultimately very powerful, yet possibly not very bright?

Recently the question of wildness and naturalness has been coming up for discussion in my life — indeed my husband has just published a book on the topic. (If you’re a Polish speaker, you can get it here). Shameless promotion aside, the topic has been much discussed, and I have sometimes been asked, by men, for a “female perspective” on being ‘natural’ or ‘wild’. I often pick up an assumption that as a woman I am somehow closer to what is wild, and to what is natural. So here are some personal reflections.

It seems to be a given right now that natural is best, and that it is a good marketing ploy to have the word slapped on to any product where it might be vaguely relevant (like a paraben-stuffed shower gel that possibly has something related to an actual fruit in it). The concept for sale is purity, safety, a connection to a vision of the past in which there were simple, tangible connections between us and where the things we used came from — we grew our own food for example, or made our own clothes.

“Natural” has a warm fuzzy glow about it, a sense of safety. It also seems to remove choice, and responsibility — if “it’s only natural”, there is no need to think about it and “introduce” (acknowledge) complexity. Some phenomena might fall into this category, which are not so warm and fuzzy, such as following instincts to protect your family by using violence. Neuroscientific and genetic research is also often interpreted to reinforce an idea of who we ‘naturally’ are — we just can’t help it.

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Nature is often pitted against culture, which is something ‘man-made’. Nature is also associated with women across a broad sweep of cultures, from the Taoist system of yin and yang to present day Western advertising — from mother earth to earth mothers, whose job is to keep us nurtured and safe. These archetypal earth mothers, symbols of purity and simplicity, are ultimately very powerful, yet possibly not very bright.

And of course where there is the archetype of the mother there must be the other side of the coin — as in the Madonna and whore syndrome traditionally presented by Christianity. Here the wild woman makes her appearance.

Wildness is natural, but with an edge. It is also something instinctual, removing the need for complex thought, but it is the opposite of safety. It transgresses, pushes boundaries. It is the kind of nature into which people go on survival courses, not to be nurtured but to test themselves. It is nature without our projections, quite indifferent to humans — exactly as it is. Wildness is also associated with living outside the norms of society and pushing boundaries of consciousness, say by taking drugs. Wildness as a lifestyle sometimes ends up in addiction.

Archetypal wild women are free of conventions, and most importantly, in charge of themselves, sexually. They incarnate freedom and desire. They have a power which is more scary than safe, but still, at the end of the day, logic, rationality and all that can be created with their help — it’s not really their thing.

And so real women slip in and out of the stereotypes/archetypes — wild women or barefoot and pregnant, yet all the while also writing their own story — one which is an inter-penetrating mix of nature and culture, just like men’s.

So, while it is good to draw on the strength of the archetypes (it can feel uniquely powerful to be pregnant, as well as utterly draining and disempowering at other times), it is important not to be dictated to by them, or limited by them. Women are not the shadow side of culture, playing the body to culture’s mind. All human beings are in a sense ruled by their biology, and in a sense in charge of their own consciousness. While this should be obvious in today’s ‘post-feminist’ world, I don’t believe that it always is.

Most importantly, there’s no escape from responsibility for our actions. While we idealise nature, we are also set on a course of environmental destruction. While we idealise qualities associated with women, women’s sexuality is controlled in more or less violent ways across the globe, and even in societies where sexuality may be freer, women consistently earn less. Maybe it’s time for us all to plug in to the qualities we admire, and use them to break up stereotypes — without necessarily making those qualities into the possessions of particular individuals, or indeed, shower gels.

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