From Devouring to Disappeared

A quick dance with the ugly side of the dark feminine

From Devouring to Disappeared 

There is a scale of grandeur to everything, from the infinitesimally minuscule to the incomprehensibly large. Nothing isn’t in context, the bearer of not only it’s own form, but also the imprint of the entire scale of it’s original. An ice cold beverage is destined to warm until room temperature, while something hot cools in the same way, each pole containing the possibility of arriving anywhere else along the spectrum of all possibilities. Darkness to light, and the reverse. Connection to separation, and the reverse. Brilliance to the dark warmth of ignorance, and all the stages in between. 

This is an essay about the spectrum of the feminine—more specifically, her contortions.

I write this essay fully aware that I am treading in dangerous waters. If you are someone who is triggered by the use of terms like feminine and masculine, and do not possess the strength in this moment to take care of yourself in an activated state, better stop here (no shame!). Similarly, if you can only abide positive things being written about the feminine, this essay (and for that matter, me) is not for you. And finally, and maybe it goes without saying, feminine does not equal female. What I say about feminine is not to be extrapolated to mean women in general. I am writing about an energetic and a human condition, not a gender. 

“The word 'feminine,' as I understand it, has very little to do with gender, nor is woman the custodian of femininity. Both men and women are searching for their pregnant virgin. She is the part of us who is outcast, the part who comes to consciousness through going into darkness, mining our leaden darkness, until we bring her silver out.” -Marion Woodman

Ok, enough caveats. 

It strikes me that, as intimated, there exists a spectrum when it comes to the myriad ways the feminine contorts herself in our world. 

(And for those of you already thinking this is an essay about toxic masculinity, the male-gaze, or the patriarchy—it is very much not. I want to address the archetypal feminine separate and apart from how it relates to the masculine, and I want to talk about how it’s showing up in all humans. Ladies, do not think that this is another rant which scapegoats our suffering onto “the patriarchy,” and men, don’t assume that just because I’m female, I’m gonna bash ya.)

On one end of the spectrum there is the much written about Devouring Mother—she is dark, tangled, chthonic terror, as in the wild sea or chaos itself. On the other end, there is what I will call the Disappeared Crone, an archetypal form so frail, so misshapen, as a result of all of the ways she broke herself to conform to society, we could barely call her formed. The Devouring Mother, one of the faces of the Great Mother, that original archetype from whence all of creation is perpetually being born, is round, almost liquid, containing not a single hard line or edge, complete unto herself in her circularity. She is the rise and fall of life cycles, the endless weaving of fate, the yawning chasm destined to swallow up all things eventually.

Contrarily, the Disappeared Crone is nothing but edges and lines, angles and corners; bones of a skeletal frame protruding through her paper skin, her knuckles so gnarled they might as well be rocks. She has all but disappeared in her effort to fit the part and be appealing—the only bit remaining is the obdurate, gritted shape of a life made callous by emptiness and empty by driving so hard. The Great Mother-Devouring Mother has existed since time immemorial; I’d argue that her skeletal sister is newer on the scene.

In case you haven’t gathered by now, this is not a spectrum of healthy feminine, but of what happens when the feminine slips into despair (as it very much has of late): she contorts herself beyond all recognition, a slave to the image of perfection she feels she must maintain to survive, or else she rolls back into that Dark Naturale, that ol’ chthonic goddess from whence all civilization has arisen, the very same we—each of us—must fight to conquer on our personal hero’s quest.

The Devouring Mother is the sucking unconscious itself, in it’s devilish just come lay your head here where it’s niiiiiiice and waaaarmmmmm so no harm will come form. It is the clawing tug of stay safe-stay the same-stay with me which traps us all in our unconscious habits from time to time (ahem—lifetimes to lifetimes). She is the undertow which lulls us back to sleep when the light of consciousness shines too bright, the death-voice which bars us from joy and serves up suffering instead, the shame spiral which thrusts it’s greedy tentacles up from the very center of our bodies and in one deft tug, robs us of all the life we were enjoying not-but-moments ago.

The Disappeared Crone (often a maiden, in reality) is her black mirrored twin: the result of too many lofty, idealized concepts, none of which have ever touched the heart or entered the body in any real way. She has built her life on looking the part, looking in the mirror, looking outward. She shines in all of the right places, avoiding herself entirely by bending over backwards to be something to everyone else. She is starving for her own love, made vapid and flimsy by questing for meaning anywhere beyond her own flesh. The spiritual thirst—reaching for ideas, nodes of consciousness, other people’s prefixed shapes and goals—has emptied her of natural hunger, and her lack of self-substance has forced her into whatever shape happens to be lying around for her to embody at the moment. Her bones are broken, her identity, too, her desire atrophied to the point of appearing as threat.

These extremes are the ghouls that haunt our earthly plane at present. I’d hazard a guess that we’ve all been acquainted with one or both of them at some point in our lives.

The weaponization of shame against creators who have erred stinks of the Devouring Mother—whose terrible power comes from her ability to shame, to withhold life and love as punishment for wrongs done—as does the hyper-conformity demanded by the masses wielding CANCEL like it was some kind of scepter, for if we’re all the same—all think the same thoughts & use the same language—we can slip back into that gushy undifferentiated blob of unconsciousness and lull ourselves placidly right back to sleep. Contrarily, the rise of the picture-perfect superhuman—spouse, parent, athlete, boss, best friend, epic lover—who not only does it all, but does so with a closet pill addiction (necessary to keep the dream alive, ammiright?!), simply oozes Disappeared Crone. This person has become so lost to their own natural instinct as to be reborn a robot. Fractured, contorted, held together by all the wonderful things other people must think about me, they are so shiny as to blind anyone from noticing the truth of their aching hollowness. 

If we do not own these shadow feminine figures, they will eat us alive, as is their nature. We will either be subsumed in the spiral of shame, conformity, and security-adjacent offered by the Devouring Mother, or we will break ourselves trying to fit the mold which has been outlined by other people—and unlike bones, breaks of that sort do not heal from a plaster cast alone. Between insatiable and insubstantial, there must be a middle ground. One must find some way to walk in the world which does not dissociate them from these very real aspects of psyche, for the moment one disconnects from the dark truth, that darkness is projected onto others, and thus we end up in a place very similar to the one we find ourselves in currently. We simply must rescue the true feminine from the dangers of herself; to not do so is to continue at our own peril. 

As far as I can discern, the work begins at the moment one becomes aware there is work to do. May it be so.