Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Harriet_02aug2012Read all posts by Harriet Ann Ellenberger.

Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Harriet Ann Ellenberger was an activist in the U.S. civil-rights, anti-war and women’s liberation movements before immigrating to Canada at the age of forty. She was a founding member of the Charlotte (North Carolina) Women’s Center (1971), co-founding editor of the journal Sinister Wisdom(1976-81), a founding partner in the bilingual feminist bookstore L’Essentielle (Montreal, 1987), editor of a small web publication She Is Still Burning (2000-2003), and co-editor (2004-8) of Trivia: Voices of Feminism. She lives in rural New Brunswick, where she writes, practices piano and helps her partner rebuild their old farmhouse. She blogs at http://www.harrietannellenberger.wordpress.com/

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(Special Post) Why I am a RTM Contributor by Sara Wright

Sara Wright

Sara Wright

I think it’s very important to support the creative works of other women in a feminist context. I also think that it’s important to comment on what others have written to help them to feel seen and heard. We feminists must work harder than others to be acknowledged and MAGO has been a beacon in the night for those of us who continue to choose this life -path.

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(Prose Part 1) The Bear Goddess in Europe by Sara Wright

“It is very peaceful with the bears; the people say that’s the reason human beings seldom return.”  Leslie Marmon Silko

Sara Wright winter rain image

Red bear, 80 cm wide, on the wall in the Cactus Gallery. Photo: Clottes (2003)

The mythology of the Bear Goddess has its roots in all continents and appears in all circumpolar cultures. The giant carnivorous nine-foot cave bear was antecedent to all. The themes of the bear first as an image of the Bear Goddess as Great Mother, guardian, celestial guide, shapeshifter, marriage partner, soul bridge, healer, and agent of renewal are present in all these cultures. In this essay we will seek out the Bear Goddess as she manifests in these guises in Europe.

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(Essay) The Messages of Birds by Hearth Moon Rising

Long before tarot, runes, I Ching, or throwing the bones, divination was applied through signs in nature. A sophisticated system of reading these signs was known as augury during the Roman empire, and it focused entirely on birds – their flight, how they perched, the way they ate or drank, the type of bird, the entrails of the bird when gutted, etc. A form of augury is still practiced in some cultures, and its origin likely goes back far into prehistory. Roman augury was a male priesthood, but I cannot find information on whether this was the case elsewhere. My guess is that augury was a non-gender specific skill, taught to everyone like reading and writing today.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Stone Age people would have closely observed bird behavior along waterways in the course of their daily activities. Even before permanent settlements humans camped along rivers or, in arid regions, moved between waterholes. Like humans, many species of birds prefer to congregate around water. Long legged fish-eating birds like herons hunt in shallow water. Webbed foot geese dive for tubers along the banks of ponds and slow moving rivers. Pelicans eat baby ducks as well as fish. Loons travel significant distance underwater as they hunt. In the tall trees eagles and osprey nest, swooping to catch small fish in their talons.

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(Art) Yeowa by Lydia Ruyle


Yeowa is a Goguryeo tomb painting of a winged celestial spirit holding the moon with a frog in it for rebirth. Her serpent dragon body with claws and feet connects Yeowa to the neolithic bird goddesses of old Europe. The three legged crow in the sun below her is Samjoko, a symbol of power and the Goguryeo Dynasty. In East Asian mythologies, the three-legged crow is a symbol of the sun and is said to live there.
Source: Wall painting. c. 1st BCE-7th century CE.
Complex of Goguryeo Tombs. North Korea

(Essay) The Linden Prophesy by Hearth Moon Rising

Hand. Photo by Hearth Moon Rising,

Photo by Hearth Moon Rising,

The linden is an important tree in herbalism and in the folklore of the Baltic region. This tree belongs to the Latvian goddess Laima (pronounced like the first word in “lima bean”). Her Lithuanian name is Laime.  Be careful not to get her confused with the fairy goddess Lauma or the Greek Lamia.

Laima is associated with many trees, but especially the linden; many birds, but especially the cuckoo; and many animals, but especially the cow. Laima is the goddess of birth, fertility, fate and prosperity — goddess qualities that seem to go together. Laima measures the length of the day, the length of a lifespan, the length of a spell of good luck. I have a mental picture of her flying around with a wooden ruler measuring things. (“Baby girl, you are going to be this tall.”)

Large-leaved Linden Tree. Photo by Willow.

Large-leaved Linden Tree.
Photo by Willow.

The linden is the tree more commonly known as basswood in the United States and lime in England. It has soft wood used for musical instruments and a pliable bark used for basket weaving. It is a choice wood for carving. The sweet smelling flowers of the linden are brewed for respiratory and urinary infections. The flowers attract insects, particularly bees, which produce a honey prized for flavor and medicinal qualities. The insects in turn attract birds, as does the linden fruit.

The bird Laima favors is the cuckoo. The reappearance of the Common Cuckoo from her African migration marks the beginning of spring in Europe, and the cuckoo is said to prophesy by her number of calls. According to Marija Gimbutas, “Another folk belief relates that the tree on which the cuckoo sits becomes sacred and imbued with the powers of the goddess. If a person peels a piece of bark or breaks a branch of this tree, he or she will know the cuckoo’s prophesies.”

The cow is the special animal of Laima, also associated with the linden tree. Laima presides over the birth of calves, usually by appearing in the stall as a black snake or a black hen or even a black bug. In one song she appears in the cow stall as a linden tree:

A branchy linden tree grew
In my cattle stall.
This was not a linden tree,
This was Laima of my cows.

Laima produces goats and sheep from her other trees:

All roadsides were covered with Laima’s trees:
From a birch a ewe was born,
From an aspen-tree, a little goat.

It is common in Euro-shamanism for land animals to have a bird form. Here we have sheep and goats with tree forms.

Of course Laima also measures the length of a woman’s pregnancy and presides at the birth of children. She governs the bathhouse and sauna where Latvian women traditionally gave birth. In this role she takes the form of a woman with braided hair bearing linden branches.

Why so swift Mother Laima
With linden twigs in your hand?
To still the tears of a young bride
Who came last year to our land.

American Basswood. Photo by Hearth Moon Rising.

American Basswood.
Photo by Hearth Moon Rising.

Laima can appear as one goddess, three goddesses, or as many as seven. In various aspects she may be given different titles, such as “Cow Laima” or “Fate Laima.” This is interesting in the context of the linden tree, because its trunk often looks like it has multiple trunks fused together. The American Basswood has several distinct trunks rising from a single base. The linden tree exemplifies the idea of the goddess who is many and one.


Evans, Erv. “Scientific name Tilia Americana.” North Carolina State University Cooperative Extention. http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/tilia_americana.html

Forler, Scott. “Linden-Lime-Basswood Honey” The Honey Traveler, 2011. http://www.honeytraveler.com/single-flower-honey/linden-lime-basswood-honey/

Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddesses. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.

Motz, Lotte. The Faces of the Goddess. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Nix, Steve. “American Basswood, A Common Tree in North America.” About.com. http://forestry.about.com/od/hardwoods/tp/American_Basswood.htm

This article originally appeared July 20, 2012 in Hearth Moon Rising’s Blog. http://hearthmoonblog.com

Meet Mago Contributor, Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Harriet_02aug2012Harriet Ann Ellenberger was an activist in the U.S. civil-rights, anti-war and women’s liberation movements before immigrating to Canada at the age of forty. She was a founding member of the Charlotte (North Carolina) Women’s Center (1971), co-founding editor of the journal Sinister Wisdom(1976-81), a founding partner in the bilingual feminist bookstore L’Essentielle (Montreal, 1987), editor of a small web publication She Is Still Burning (2000-2003), and co-editor (2004-8) of Trivia: Voices of Feminism. She lives in rural New Brunswick, where she writes, practices piano and helps her partner rebuild their old farmhouse. She blogs at http://www.harrietannellenberger.wordpress.com/

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(Poem) Compassion goddess hears the cries of the world and descends to help those in need by Donna Snyder

I came here on the back of an extinct crane
Its slender neck
Wings fierce and gilded with the feathers of the north wind
I heard the needs of the people and the tormented world
I fled the other place and came to the border of here and there
Don’t measure my strength by the standards of your own desires
Do not judge my beauty by the light of the eyes you behold when you look into the obsidian mirror
Plumb my darkness and encounter your own illumination
Herald my compassion and celebrate the outrage in my heart
Look me in the face and dare to see me
Now sorrowful
Now ashiver with ecstasy
You may be blinded by the stars about my head
Twist my hair into a knot and bind me to your fate
You may be blinded
But I will not look away
There is no existence without the “I”
There is no authenticity without the “now”

this poem previously appeared in my poetry chapbook “I Am South” which was published in 2010 by VirgoGray Press.
Donna Snyder.jpg crane goddess

(Photo Essay 5) ‘Gaeyang Halmi, the Sea Goddess of Korea’ by Helen Hwang

Part 5: Gaeyang Halmi, How Does She Relate with Mago?

The field research concerning Gaeyang Halmi was undertaken with the thought that Gaeyang Halmi is related to Mago in some way. Such assumption is on the grounds that the folktales of Gaeyang Halmi and Mago Halmi substantively share the same motifs. In fact, I had thought Gaeyang Halmi is another name of Mago Halmi. A scrutiny has proven that the picture of their correlation is far more complex than I first envisaged, exposing the hidden nexuses of Old Magoism. This last part aims at disentangling the grips. It is indispensable for me to invite my readers to the task of reconstructing ancient East Asian mytho-history.

Gwaneum (Guanyin) of Sea Water, Naksan-sa, S. Korea

Haesu Gwaneum Bosal (Bodhisattva Gwaneum of Sea Water), Naksan-sa, S. Korea

Gaeyang Halmi embodies a partial manifestation of Mago as the Sea Goddess. Nonetheless, such a statement lacks complex subtexts that this topic involves. The Gurang (Nine Maidens) mytheme of Gaeyang Halmi sheds light on the mytho-history of Old Magoism (read Magoism in pre- and proto-Chinese times characterized by shaman rulers). To be specific, Gaeyang Halmi in the gurang pantheon suggests a yet-to-be-known shaman ruler, “Ungnyeo” (Bear/Sovereign Woman), founder of the confederacy of the nine states, which I call Danguk (ca. 3898 BCE-2333 BCE). The gurang represented by Gaeyang Halmi is no small clue to the pervasive yet misunderstood civilization of Ungnyeo. “Ungnyeo” is eponymous of the female symbolism of nine, such as the nine-tailed fox in East Asia and the nine muses and the nine forms of Durga beyond East Asia mentioned in Part IV. In short, Gaeyang Halmi oscillating between “Mago” and “Ungnyeo” in Her identity testifies to the suppressed history of Old Magoism.

Methodically, I have two types of mythological texts to decipher the overtones of Gaeyang Halmi’s mytheme: folklore (oral narratives) and the written myth. Goddess mythemes, malleable yet immortal, constitute the grammar blocks of the gynocentric language that often appears “awkward” if not “ridiculous” to moderns. They need to be analyzed and interpreted. Feminist techniques are apt to sort out the sediments and decipher the diastrophic disturbances caused by patriarchal advances in the course of time.

Some parallels between Gaeyang Halmi and Mago Halmi folk stories are overt. Their stories are so similar that they appear to be an identical goddess:

A: The motif that Gaeyang Halmi walks on the sea, often described as wearing namak-sin (wooden shoes) or only beoseon (Korean traditional socks), is also commonly told in Mago stories especially from Jeju Island[i] and other coastal regions.

B: That Gaeyang Halmi walks around in the sea to measure its depth is also told in the stories of Mago from other coastal regions.

C: The mytheme that Gaeyang Halmi had eight daughters recurs in the stories of Mago, especially from the region of Mt. Jiri. Mago is said to have had eight daughters and sent them to eight provinces.

Given the above, it is evident that Gaeyang Halmi lore resembles that of Mago. Were the populace confused about these two goddesses? I hold that the confusion was not a mistake but a way to convey that Gaeyang Halmi is related to Magoism rather than Mago Herself. In folklore, “why” and “how”are the questions to be interpreted, not to be read.

Supreme Goddess of Seonang Shrine, Korea

Supreme Goddess of Seonang Shrine, Korea

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(Essay) Ratatosk, The Red Scoundrel by Hearth Moon Rising

I remember yet
the giants of yore,
Who gave me bread
in the days gone by;
Nine worlds I knew,
the nine in the tree,
With mighty roots
beneath the mold
–From The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

Coming down off the mountain, I found a clean log to sit on and emptied the pebbles from my boot.

Red Squirrel. Photo by 4028mdk09

A red squirrel appeared and began chattering angrily. I stretched, closed my eyes for a moment, then adjusted the weight distribution in my pack. The squirrel continued to squeak, click and scold. “Will you be quiet!” I shouted finally. “I’m not hurting you!” The squirrel ran away ten feet, turned around, and began haranguing me again.

Yggdrasil, from a 17th century Icelandic manuscript.

There is no mystery as to why the red squirrel Ratatosk, who scurries up and down the world tree Yggdrasil, is believed to carry insults and verbal abuse. Even the ordinary squirrel scampers to the far reaches of tall trees and down again, seemingly to no purpose, scolding furiously. But the ancestors who studied Yggdrasil’s nature did discern a purpose in Ratatosk’s behavior: he carries insults from the Eagle, who lives in the upper reaches of the ash tree, to the underworld of Niflheim (NIV-el-hame) where the giant serpent Nidhogg (NEED-hog) nibbles at the roots. Nidhogg then offers invectives of his own, which Ratatosk brings up to the Eagle.

What kind of a purpose is that?

To understand the genius of Ratatosk’s role, we have to go back to the nature and the purpose of Yggdrasil itself. The world ash actually supports nine worlds, including the world of the gods, Asgard (AHS-guard), the world of the dead, Niflheim, and the world of humans, Midgard. At the base of the three main roots, the Norns, three goddesses of fate and prophecy, water the tree with white water from a magical lake. They nurture the roots by feeding them moistened clay. Nourished in this way, Yggdrasil’s roots, shoots, leaves and trunk could grow unchecked, choking the universe; but Nidhogg and his sibling serpents nibble at the edges of the roots, a nanny-goat eats the sprouting twigs, and four deer munch on the leaves. Ratatosk, whose name means “drill-tooth,” chews the bark of the tree. The worlds, supported by the sacred ash, remain in balance.

Detail of Ratatosk, from the same drawing

So back to the silly Ratatosk, conveying invectives in the ongoing battle between eagle and serpent. Trying to discern a straightforward purpose in Ratatosk’s behavior is a futile task. We need to ask: if Ratatosk were to go away, what would happen in the conflict between the Eagle and Nidhogg? Would they fight each other directly? Neither is bound to their station. Since eagles prey upon snakes, the Eagle would inevitably emerge victorious in such a battle, and the nine worlds, which depend on both the tree and its antagonists in equilibrium, would collapse.

Ultimately, we need to know more about the feud. The Eddas, sacred texts of Germanic lore written several centuries after the Christian conversion, have little to say on this topic. The name of the Eagle is not even given. We only know that the Eagle is “wise” and Nidhogg is “evil.” They are separated by the long trunk of Yggdrasil, with Ratatosk enabling a virtual war between wisdom and evil with words, like the verbal battle between truth and lies.

The gods know that balance is a state that cannot remain indefinitely, and so the worlds we know must someday end and be replaced by something else. The Eddas say that it will be evil, not wisdom, that will gain the upper hand. But either way, the fate of the nine worlds supported by Yggdrasil is sealed. Still it is the duty of the gods, indeed of everyone, to hold off that day as long as possible. And so Ratatosk scurries up and down the sacred ash, transporting and returning the words wisdom and evil tell each other.


Bellows, Henry Adam, trans. The Poetic Edda, 1936. At http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe06.htm.

Cooper, D. Jason. Using the Runes. Wellingborough, UK: Aquarian Press, 1986.

Guerber, H.A. The Norsemen. London: Senate Books, 1994. Reprint.

(Poem) The Neighbours Send a Message by Harriet Ellenberger

 The Neighbours Send a Message

Moose, deer, lynx, coyote, bear,
skunk, porcupine, snowshoe hare,
hawk owl, ant, crow, honey bee,
all who live in the woods
behind the house I live in,
now formally address the human race:

We, aforementioned children of earth,
together with all our relations,
and by the power of spirit that moves in all things,
do hereby protest vehemently
the destruction of our homes.

We have kept watch in silence
while you made war on each other,
but our time for surveillance
and fleeing is finished.

We will not watch
without intervening
while you mindlessly kill our mother.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Many thanks to Monica J. Casper (co-editor of Trivia: Voices of Feminism www.triviavoices.com) for encouraging me to turn a flippant e-mail remark into a finished piece.

A note on the hawk owl, for those who live outside her territory: The hawk owl is a northern owl who hunts silently by day. If you’re a field mouse in the wrong place at the wrong time, her shadow will be the last thing you see. If, however, you’re too big to be on her luncheon menu, you are free to calmly admire her fluffy-feathered beauty, her grace in the air, and the stealth and precision of her strikes.

A note on “the power of spirit that moves in all things”:  Watching animals, birds, insects, reptiles, and being influenced by them, has given me the idea that they feel “the power of spirit that moves in all things,” that they’re plugged into cosmic mind. I think humans used to be plugged into cosmic mind too, but that the social systems which developed with patriarchal religions broke the connection. Since then, we’ve been rushing around out-of-sync with everyone else on the planet, and, as a consequence, increasingly unhappy and destructive. I especially love the many images of Goddess-with-her-sacred-animals because these images help me feel again what the other beings on earth feel; they help me reconnect to universal intelligence.

(Poem) Oh Mother, Our Mother by Mary Saracino

When the sun rises

and the moon sets

when the earth sings

and the sky sighs

will we remember

that clouds are kin to every human

that every woman, every man

is mother, father, sister, brother

to every bird that soars every tree that welcomes the wind?

Oh Mother, Our Mother

when will we remember

we are aunt and uncle to every flower

every bee, every field of grain

grandmother, grandfather

to every river, every ocean, too

that water blesses each of us

and blood binds every living thing?

Oh Mother, Our Mother

when will we claim your rhythms as our own

heed the secrets in our DNA

one human race, one planet

one precious home, one sheltered haven for

every living creature, great and small?

“Oh Mother, Our Mother” was first published on April 22, 2010 at wwww.newversenews.com to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

(Photo Essay 4) ‘Gaeyang Halmi, the Sea Goddess of Korea’ by Helen Hwang

Part IV: Revival of the Gurang (Nine Maidens) Gaeyang Halmi

There is more to reveal. As I write this part of the photo essay, I have encountered new information, previously made available online by individuals and organizations. It is reported that the “Suseong-dang” (水聖堂, Sea Saint Shrine) was once called the “Gurang-sa” (九娘祠, Nine Maidens Shine), of which I never heard before.[i] That  Suseong-dang is a fake name blew my mind!  Note the difference of gender between “the Nine Maidens Shrine” and “the Sea Saint Shrine”! The female-connoted term was stolen just like that! “Gurang-sa,” a female-referenced term as the character “rang” means a maiden, had to go due to its overt female representation.

“Suseong-dang” Information Board

It is not without grounds that I was taken aback to see its present logography, “the Sea Saint Shrine,” on the information board.[ii] I almost heard a voice warning me, “This is not the place that you think it is!” That voice attempted to force me to leave the place without further investigation. However, I intuitively took a mental note, “Something is not correct here.” And I was right!

Its name change sheds a consistent light on the meddling of patriarchal distortion/deception done to the tradition of Gaeyang Halmi. Readers are reminded of the lost painting of Gaeyang Halmi, which was replaced by that of the Sea God explicated in Part 2 of this photo essay (also Part 3). Like “the Sea God,” “the Suseong-dang” constitutes no reality. It is not only a conceptual deception but also a theft of the intangible cultural heritage, righteously committed by  faceless patriarchal men disappeared into the lapse of time. It is clear that systematic erasure of the Female/Goddess has been in operation. Female power embodied whether in the name of the shrine or in the iconography was stripped away. However, it is proven once again that the Female is immortal because it constitutes the root of patriarchy. People smuggled the forbidden knowledge of the Female to later generations through oral stories. Thus, we find the folklore of the Female subversive.

Gurang (Nine Maidens) Gaeyang Halmi, Gurang-sa, Buan, S. Korea

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(Art) ‘Xiwangmu (Queen Mother of the West)’ by Lydia Ruyle

Xiwangmu is the Queen Mother of the West. Her home is the Kunlun mountain range in western China. She sits under the dome of heaven on her dragon / tiger throne presiding over your soul’s return to her at death. Her sacred animals are below her and include: the nine tailed fox for cunning and longevity, the three legged crow for death, the toad/frog for rebirth, and the rabbit holding sacred mushrooms for experiencing altered states of consciousness. Spiraling clouds of energy surround the queen and her spirits.

Source: Tomb tile, Han Dynasty, 2nd Century, Sichuan Provincial Museum, Chengdu

Related Article: ‘Xi Wangmu, the shamanic great goddess of China,’ part 1 by Max Dashu

(Poem) ‘Victoria, British Columbia, Summer Solstice 1993’ by Harriet Ann Ellenberger

Victoria, British Columbia, Summer Solstice 1993

At a loss for everything

but words,

I’m writing in the sunlight

of a sidewalk cafe

when someone falls

over an empty chair and

lands on the table

in front of me.


I’m as drunk on language

as he is on booze.


A foxtail hangs from a leather cord

at his throat, like a necktie

over his t-shirt,

and when I ask him about it,

he tells me his story.


He killed the fox,

and then his mother said to him,

You took the life

of a free and beautiful animal

so you could feel like a bigger man.

Now the spirit of the fox

will make you pay.


He believed his mother.


I believe her too.

And beneath her words,

I hear the soft, alluring

voice of earth:


I dreamt each one of you,

you are just as I wish —

Go now,

walk your path,


and live.

– Harriet Ann Ellenberger

(Poem) ‘Crane Dance’ by Anne Wilkerson Allen

Crane Dance

We danced at the edge of pale waters,

not caring if we missed a step

or fell into the wake of each others jubilance.


We leapt in the moonlight,

contours of light and shadow

reflected in the depths of the lake.


The soft down at the base of her feathers

was a gentle caress on the breeze of tender love

and her silver eyes embraced me.


“Why are you afraid of what you feel?

Kindle the furnace of your heart and

let go, or you will never know yourself”


I beheld my nakedness and abandon

and felt complete freedom in that moment,

as with a trusted lover.


“Mother,” said she, and I looked behind me.

“Mother,” said she, and stepped closer to my fear

because the voice was not of my child.


In her voice I heard the yearning of a million hearts

I felt the aching of a thousand needs

And the brokenness in my own heart that I don’t know.

I don’t know if I have enough to feed them all.


Crane Dance by Matthew Allen



Translated to French by Pierre Leclair



Traduction (anglais > français)


Nous avons dansé au bord des eaux pâle,


ne pas se soucier si nous avons manqué une étape


ou ont diminué dans le sillage de chaque jubilation autres.


Nous sauté dans la lune,


contours d’ombre et lumière


reflété dans les profondeurs du lac.


Le duvet à la base de ses plumes


était une caresse sur la brise de l’amour tendre


et ses yeux d’argent m’a embrassé.


«Pourquoi avez-vous peur de ce que vous ressentez?


Meublez votre cœur avec passion.


Si vous ne lâchez pas, vous ne serez jamais se connaître »


Je regardai ma nudité et d’abandonner


et ressenti une liberté totale en ce moment,


comme avec un amant de confiance.


«Mère», dit-elle, et j’ai regardé derrière moi.


«Mère», dit-elle, et s’approcha de ma peur


parce que la voix n’était pas de mon enfant.


Dans sa voix, j’ai entendu le désir d’un million de cœurs


J’ai ressenti le mal d’un millier de besoins


Et le brisement dans mon propre cœur que je ne sais pas.


Je ne sais pas si j’ai assez pour nourrir tous..


































Translated by Kunibumi Izumi

訳: 泉国文

De-mystifying the Nature Phenomenon by Anna McBain

“In truth, the female role throughout the biological world is quite complex with an alpha or dominant female leading the social and educational factors of her family members.”

Women have been conditioned by society to be tools, objects, and slaves/property. Our minds and thoughts, our labor, our very bodies have been attacked by vicious campaigns enforcing ignorance and servitude or have been labeled by governments and religious figures who have dictated what we can and cannot do with our selves. It’s not just men doing this to women, but also women doing this to other women. They have become so well-conditioned they have joined the ranks of the global patriarchal mindset, a mindset that has proven to be harmful to the female of the species and subsequently, our planet. The excuse for the subjugation of women, time and time again, is stated as being “Nature.” Through “observation” of the animal kingdom, we are told the males are dominant over the females of their species. If it’s true in the wild, it must surely be true for human kind. Terms such as alpha-male, bull-figurehead, lead-stallion, and dominant-male are enhanced when reading the common magazine article or watching a television show on animal behavior. The role of the females of species is seldom as intricately told. For the “Nature” excuse of the treatment of women, this only reinforces the concept that females are “naturally” subordinate to their male counterparts.

In truth, the female role throughout the biological world is quite complex with an alpha or dominant female leading the social and educational factors of her family members. In wolves and most canines, the alpha female is the only female allowed to mate. With the alpha male at her side, all the social activities of the pack are decided and rules of the pack enforced. They are a balanced unit working together to maintain the social well being and survival of the pack. Scientists have noted this behavior not only in wolves, but also in domesticated dogs, when they are allowed to form packs. Hyena clans are ruled by a dominant female and her second in command and most fox species live solitary lives until they take a mate. Except for the desert and artic fox, foxes mate for life and both participate in raising the kits.

In the feline world, the female rules. Tigers, panthers, cougars, ocelots, leopards, cheetah, and 35 of the 36 species of wild cats in the world are either single living a solitary life until they go into estrus and start looking for a male, or are the dominant family member. The exception is the African Lion. There is no dominant female in a lion pride. Rather, outside of hunting to supply food to the family, female lions are non-communal within the pride. Only when cubs are produced do the females interact on a more social basis. This behavior does not, however, empower the male to dominate the pride, but rather encourages him to be social toward all the breeding females to increase the pride birth rate.

The Stallion, contrary to popular belief, is not the head of the herd. Wikipedia states, “The leadership role in a herd is held by a mare, known colloquially as the ‘lead mare’ or ‘boss mare.’ The mare determines the movement of the herd as it travels to obtain food, water, and shelter. She also determines the route the herd takes when fleeing from danger. When the herd is in motion, the dominant stallion herds the straggling members closer to the group and acts as a ‘rear guard’ between the herd and a potential source of danger. When the herd is at rest, all members share the responsibility of keeping watch for danger. The stallion is usually on the edge of the group, to defend the herd if needed.” The dominant mare role is the same in zebra and donkey herds as well. This same behavior is not limited, however, to only mare heads, but dominant females of wild deer, such as the Elk and White Tail, also maintain this important role for their herds.

Bears are amazing creatures. For the first two to three years of a young bear’s life, both male and female are very attached to their mother. Then the males wander off in search of territory and love while the daughters tend to stay with mother until they are ready to breed. Much like the feline, female bears rule their own world. They determine what male they want to mate with and how long they are willing to tolerate him hanging around. As males tend to be very aggressive toward cubs, in most cases a female bear will force a male to leave once she’s pregnant. She even rules her own body, as female Kodiaks have been known to “turn off” their hormones if they go into premature estrus (while still nursing very young cubs).

Humans are just one of the variety in the primate group. Other family members include chimpanzees, orangutan, gorillas, spider monkeys, and even the lemur. Primates are the most complex of all the animal kingdom, with each type of grouping or family unit possessing its own set of rules while still having a typed set. According to biologist Charlotte Hemelrijk, “The position of females in the hierarchy varies among different monkey species. In most species females are ranking below the males. However, in the case of the Lemur species of Madagascar the females are dominant, in bonobos, males and females roughly equal each other in dominance, and among a lot of other species (macaques and the grivet, for instance) females are weakly dominant.” Many primate species have one or two dominant males and a hierarchy of dominant females. Gorilla females compete for the protection and attention of the dominant silverback male, whose role is not only to protect the troop or family unit, but does the majority of the decision making as well. However, in 2008, researchers at the University of Groningen made a surprising discovery – the more males in the monkey family unit, the more dominant the females. Because the average family unit consists of an average of four males in the dominant male hierarchy, numbers beyond this create conditions within the unit that the females take advantage of to gain control.

It is the male bird of nearly every species that strives to please the female of his desire. He works very hard to look, dance, and even sing his best to catch her eye. The discerning feathered female, once her mate is chosen, becomes the queen of her roost. She dictates the nest and how it is built in many species. Both birds are responsible for feeding, rearing, and protecting the young.

Whales and dolphins in live in family units called pods. Pods consist of mothers and daughters and vary in size from a small group of four or five to a large group of ten or more. The dominant lead of the pod is a seasoned mother or grandmother type. Males, though they usually leave the family, maintain a connection to their pods.

From the domestic to the wild animal, “nature” has shown us that the female species of most species is not a subservient animal. She is a willful and dominant part of her family structure. Solitary female species do not bend at the presence of their male counterpart, but defend her independence and territory. As mothers, they cultivate the social structure of the family unit and their offspring are most often theirs alone to educate. Through observing “Nature” we see the true roles of women in society not as objects, property, or servants to man, but as equal partners and/or dominating of self. The myth of nature dictating the male rule over the female is just that, a myth.


Animals Busch Gardens, web site, Elephant behavior, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_behavior

Daily Science, Females Monkeys More Dominant in Groups With Relatively More Males, web page,  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080715204745.htm

International Association for Bear Research and Management, web site, http://www.bearbiology.com/index.php?id=37

Mech, L. David 1999. Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs. Canadian Journal of Zoology 77:1196-1203. PDF file


Noble, G.K., Symposium: The Individual and the Species, 1939 vol. 56, The Role of Dominance in the social life of birds, PDF, http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Auk/v056n03/p0263-p0273.pdf

O’Neil, Denis, Social Structure, web site, http://anthro.palomar.edu/behavior/behave_2.htm

Sreedharan, Sreejit, Research on Wild Cats, web site, http://sreejit-wildcats.blogspot.com/

Stone, Linda, 1997 Kinship and Gender, Westview Press, Harper-Collins. Boulder. The Evolution of Kinship and Gender, http://socio.ch/evo/stone.htm

Wikipedia, web page, Horse Behavior, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_behavior

The Forest Queen: Mielikki and the Bear by Hearth Moon Rising

Forest in Finland’s Helvetinjarvi national park

We are joyfully anticipating thunderstorms where I live, the reprieve from a rare drought.  As the dryness has delayed summer berries, bears have raided campsites and cabins for food.  If the bears don’t get fat enough over the summer, they will starve during hibernation.

Though I eagerly await the storm, I am prepared to spend time comforting a frightened cat.  The instinctual fear of thunder seems to afflict most animals.  The goddess Mielikki (MEE-uh-lick-KEY) used this fear to her advantage when putting the finishing touches on her prize creation, the bear.  She made the trembling animal kneel before Ukko (OO-koh), the sky god who wields his hammer so sharply that light flashes.  She told the bear she would not give him claws or teeth unless he swore to Ukko that he would never misuse them.  The bear made his vow to the terrible Ukko.

Mielikki is not only guardian of the bear, but of the whole forest.  Finnish hunters used to pray to Mielikki for all types of game.  If the timing of the hunt was auspicious, Mielikki would appear wearing gold bracelets, gold earrings, and her signature gold buckle.  If the hunt was ill-advised, Mielikki appeared to the petitioner in rags.  Mielikki holds the wealth of the forest — not only the animals but the trees and all the plants.  With her child gods and her husband Tapio (TAH-pee-oh), who has a twig hat and a moss beard, she manages the health of the forest.

Brown Bear with babies. Photo by Saajaja

Mielikki undoubtedly favors the bear of all her creatures.  Bears are called “Mielikki’s dogs” because they are so dear to her, and because only she can truly control them.  Mielikki traveled far into the sky, far past the moon, to gather the materials from which she made the first bear.  She sewed the fragments of wool together and placed the bundle in a birch basket, which she tied with gold chains to the highest pine tree.  There she rocked the basket back and forth until the little bear stirred with life.

The idea of the bear coming from the sky is the opposite of the Greek story of Callisto, who was banished to the sky after breaking her vow of chastity to Artemis.  She became the Ursa Major or Great Bear constellation, and her child became Ursa Minor.  Many have wondered at the similarities between Artemis and Mielikki.  I think forest goddesses naturally develop a special relationship with the bear.  If the lion is “King of the Jungle,” the bear is Queen of the Forest.  She stands regally on two feet when she chooses, and she has a mighty roar. She is large and scary, with no predators in adulthood, other than humans.  Her main enemy is hunger. That and maybe lightning, if she isn’t careful about those claws…


Abercromby, John. Magic Songs of the West Finns, vol. 2. 1898. At Sacred Texts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ms2/index.htm

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin Books, 1960.

Lonnrot, Elias. The Kalevela. John Martin Crawford, trans. 1910. At Sacred Texts. http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/kveng/kvtitle.htm

Stone, Merlin. Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.