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Nature moves in cycles. We can see it in the dance of the seasons from winter to spring to summer to autumn and back to winter. We can see it in the water cycle, photosynthesis, the food web, and the life cycle of one small basil plant. Everything is constantly in motion – living, dying, beginning again – and everything is interconnected. We often forget that we are a part of that, too.
But it’s HARD to honour the seasonal and the cyclical – the seasons, the phases of the Moon, our own life cycles, our menstrual cycles – in a world that wants us to travel along a straight trajectory, unswerving, constant, and forever young.
But I’m figuring it out.
I’ve been working with archetypes for some time now. A few years ago, a friend and I started exploring the archetypes of the Maiden, the Mother, the Enchantress and the Wise Woman, and how they could guide us through the phases of the menstrual cycle. But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s begin at the beginning.
What is an archetype?
The modern English word archetype comes from the ancient Greek word arkhetypon. This is an amalgamation of two words, the first meaning ‘the original’ and the second ‘a cast or mold’. These days, we use the word archetype in literature, art and Jungian psychology to describe a character which displays typical behaviours, traits or aspects of human nature. Archetypes are universal and appear throughout history, from Greek mythology to the Avengers!
There are various female archetypes and they have various names. I work with the Maiden, Mother, Enchantress and Wise Woman because they correspond strongly to the stages of the menstrual cycle, the seasons and the phases of the Moon. Working with them can bring a greater understanding of, and connection to, our bodies and the natural world.
NOTE: Working with archetypes is NOT a religious practice. (It makes no difference if you are religious, spiritual or an atheist – you can refer to the archetypes as a guide and an anchor, with no conflict of interest.)
With that said, now it’s time to meet the Enchantress!
Meeting the Enchantress
The Enchantress (sometimes also called the Witch or the Healer) is associated with:
- the sunset, dusk and coming of night
- the waning of the Moon
- the premenstrual phase of our menstrual cycles (inner autumn).
All of these have many things in common.
- They are transitional phases, moving us from times of fullness and plenty to times of rest, dark and quiet.
- They are times of winding down. In winter, our circadian rhythm calls us to longer hours of rest/sleep because there are more hours of darkness. As the Moon ‘wanes’, less of its surface is visible, and more is hidden from sight. In the premenstrual phase of our cycles, we experience lower levels of reproductive system hormones (FSH and LH are low, and estradiol and progesterone are falling).
- They can also be unstable and uncertain times. In the past, winter was always a gamble, as people hoped there would be enough to eat till spring. Darkness, too, was something to be feared because it hid unknown dangers. The premenstrual phase can often feel like that – as if we’re not in control and we’re not sure if we’ve got enough to get us through.
So it’s easy to think of this time as a time of depletion – falling temperatures, food becoming scarce, hormones taking a nose-dive and energy dropping. But there is another face to autumn, another face to the darkness and, yes, even to PMS!
The Enchantress, as an archetype, isn’t depleted. She is POWERFUL. But her power isn’t the dynamic inertia of enthusiasm and wild inspiration (check the Maiden for that). The Enchantress’s power is hard-won through knowledge and experience.
Step into your power
Think about what society tells us about the premenstrual phase. You’re moody, irrational and unreasonable. PMS sucks – your boobs hurt, you’re bloated, you’ve got headaches or even migraines, your skin breaks out … No wonder the majority of women hate this stage of their cycles – we have been conditioned to do so.
We need to chuck this thinking out the window. Your premenstrual phase is BEAUTIFUL precisely because it reveals everything to you. Let’s take the examples I gave above and flip them so we can see the other side – our side – of the story,
You’re moody OR you just can’t put up with the BS right now.
You’re irrational OR you are seeing with absolute clarity.
You’re unreasonable OR you have the courage to ask for what you want.
What about the physical symptoms? Well, those are actually your body trying to communicate with you. If you learn to listen to and understand those communications, well – that’s pretty powerful stuff.
At this stage in your cycle, you get to see the ‘real you’, with no high hormone levels to cover up the cracks. If you experience bothersome PMS symptoms, then it’s worth exploring further. Read up (Hormone Intelligence by Dr. Aviva Romm is brilliant). Listen to your body and find out what it needs. See a medical professional if necessary (but make sure they will treat you with respect, listen to you and look at you as a whole being and not a symptom to throw pills at). It might take cycles of experimentation to get to the root of the problem. (Is it bread that makes you bloated? Caffeine that makes your period painful when it arrives? Are your premenstrual headaches a sign that you need to slow down?) Even then, you probably won’t be free of all premenstrual symptoms forever (this isn’t a fairytale fix), but it’s highly likely they’ll lessen. It’s also highly likely that your relationship to your symptoms will change. Weird as it might sound right now, they could one day end up being your friends. “Heads up,” your aching breasts will say. “Menstruation is just around the corner. Better think about slowing down.” “Didn’t you hear?” your headache will prompt. “We told you to slow down. That 5k run this morning wasn’t really what we meant. How about doing some yin yoga tomorrow?” “Menstruation’s coming,” your bloated tummy will tell you. “Maybe ease up on the bread, yeah?”
See? Friends. Friends who emPOWER you to understand and work with your body.
The Enchantress and abundance + creativity + connection
Abundance? In autumn? Yes! The trees overhead may not be weighed down with fruit. The climbing tomato and cucumber plants might be over by now, but there is food. On the ground (pumpkins and squash, anyone?) and under the earth (bring on the root veggies!) Just like nature, the Enchantress is concerned with what is underneath, what is inside, what is down there in the darkness. And she’s not afraid to explore it.
The Enchantress is creative too. No, really! I know people think this season (and inner season) is all about destruction, but it’s not! Autumn is when the plants go to seed – and what is more creative than a seed? It can literally bring things to life, from little wildflowers to huge oak trees. YOU can get creative in this part of your cycle too. Make art if that’s what you feel like. Journal like crazy or write poetry. Me, I like being in my kitchen. It makes sense to me. So tap into that creativity. Trust me, it’s there.
Connect. If you create, you WILL connect to yourself. You can connect to your roots too with music from your childhood or culture, or by making a recipe passed down through the women of your family. Connect to the Earth by taking a walk and getting to know your local flora. Pick a plant you see every day, learn what you can about it, and/or sketch it. Spend time in your garden, if you have one, or plant some bulbs in pots. Get your hands in the dirt, literally.
I have SO much to say about the Enchantress. I love this archetype! (Can you tell?) I’ve tried to stick to the basics here and not ramble on too much, but I see I’m approaching 1,400 words of Enchantress-love, so I had better reign it in! I hope I gave you some insight and some practical ideas about how to connect with and learn to appreciate inner autumn. Till next time!