Seeking the feminine

As I’ve mentioned, in addition to yoga, foreign languages, coding, classical music, the banjo, and geometry,* I’ve been studying the tarot. I’ve been learning different methods of reading, as well as the individual cards. I learn a new card (drawn at random) each week.

Disclaimer: I’m not  interested in tarot as a prognostic tool. I’m happy to acknowledge it as one of the ways through which different people see the world and personally I’m not one to dismiss how anyone tries to make sense of universe. Everyone approaches that process in different, often contradictory ways. You might love astrology and be a devout Muslim. Practice Wicca and study neuroscience. Outside of someone’s intolerance or interference in the lives of others, I don’t see it as my concern.

So why tarot? Well, for one, tarot is largely about narrative. And unlike your daily horoscope, which presents a pre-crafted story, tarot requires us to draw connections on our own. More than prediction, I’d argue tarot is about recognition. E.g., when you see the Fool and understand the implications of his naiveté, you know the elements of your life that already evoke that card.  And either it moves you or it doesn’t, much like any narrative. Each card connects to the next in a different way to create potential resonance. It’s storytelling and like any good story, we see ourselves in aspects of it.

The reason tarot is effective is the other reason I find it fascinating: it deals with archetypes. Especially when we consider the Major Arcana, we’re really reflecting on the archetypes which have dominated human culture and religion for much of our history. Because archetypes are broad categories–sometimes to the point of stereotype or caricature–they lend themselves to narrative creation. Really, the Major Arcana are not unlike the Myers-Briggs types, which are complete pop psychology at this point, but still capture our imaginations.

This week, my card was the High Priestess, which is associated (unsurprisingly) with the feminine. Evocative of Artemis, Persephone, and Isis, we connect the High Priestess with divine mystery, the moon, and the unconscious. Her presence indicates a need to connect with the feminine, our dreams, and our intuition.

Coincidentally, the feminine has become something of a theme for me this week, as I’ve also been focusing on feminine sequences in yoga (yin yoga), including the moon salutation. This style of yoga not only focuses on different parts of the body–it also engages more with movement and the creation of feminine shapes.

It’s an odd thing for me as a contemporary woman and a feminist to consider this idea of the feminine, especially as part of a dichotomy. After all, many cultures had and have a male-female division. (Even Virginia Woolf made the suggestion that there’s a difference between male and female sentences in A Room of One’s Own.) Of course, we know gender isn’t a dichotomy–it’s a spectrum which also includes gender expression. Even biological sex has a range of expression, including intersex, which is an umbrella term for a whole range of sexual traits.

And yet, there’s something weirdly appealing about this idea of the feminine, especially when we reclaim it from mere Western femininity, with all the cultural pitfalls of that idea. There’s something compelling in the idea that the feminine has its own implicit type of strength. That it can be distinct from the masculine and still powerful. Not to say that some domains need necessarily be those of women and others those of men–but maybe that an idea can be culturally or symbolically evocative of one or the other and they be held in equal balance. After all, women can participate in the masculine and men in the feminine.

Maybe it has less to do with my conception of gender or gender expression than I think. Maybe the language is insufficient to capture what we need to say about the masculine and the feminine and gender. Maybe all of it is what we make of it.

But I want to keep thinking about it, not just in yoga or tarot, but–getting back to Woolf–in writing, too. So I’ve decided to turn my lady writer streak into a real goal. K.T. Bradford recently posted a challenge: Stop Reading White, Straight, Cis Male Authors for One Year.

Granted, this seemed easy enough given that’s what I was already doing, but I’m going to make it official here and add some ground rules.

In 2015, I will only read books by (cisgender and transgender) women. Additionally, half of those women will be women of color, LGBTQ women, or international writers. 

I will make exceptions in three cases: 1) books I read for Dead White Guys 2) books I read for research and 3) books I read for any kind of group reading project (e.g. I’m discussing Absalom, Absalom! with a group of my old classmates next week). Short works such as individual poems, stories, essays, or articles are also exempt. Otherwise, any book I read for entertainment, for my own edification as a writer, or for the purposes of reviewing here, on The Girl Who Loved Zombies, or for Tate Street High Society will be exclusively by women.

At the moment, I’m diving deep into my Octavia Butler pile. I’ve got six more of hers to read now that I’ve finished Dawn. Shirley Jackson and Ursula K. LeGuin also coming up. I know–classics.

*If you needed evidence of why liberal arts education ruins you for normal life–there you go. 

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