It took me years to admit that my sphere of knowledge was relatively minute and many more to lose my shame about it. Where once I paid lip service to humility believing it to be a route to social acceptance, now my attitude is one of “I know nothing, isn’t it brilliant!” And maybe that’s why it took me until now to read Burning Woman, a book by my respected friend, and even more respected editor, Lucy Pearce. Because as much as I know how little I know, some areas have been out of bounds. Specifically woo, and anything resembling woo. It’s not scientific, it’s not rational… but above all it’s not respected in our society.
“I’m aware the opening and closing of it and the poetry will probably be too woo-woo for you,” Lucy said, “but there’s big strong stuff in it which address the heart of what you’re experiencing right now. It’s far more flowery than your approach – but it shares the same heart and the same meat and motivation as yours.”
As an author, it’s terribly uncomfortable if you don’t like your author friends’ work. Because you know how much time and heartache went into producing the work and you think, surely, surely I must be able to find something to like, something to put in the shit sandwich; out of respect for this effort that I myself have spent years exerting, I don’t like to put negative reviews out on Goodreads. But I grappled with my fear and bias and I opened this book. As soon as I hit the acknowledgments, I was hooked. Yes, the acknowledgments that front-piece few read (and that never happens).
“Everywhere I look the walls are closing in on my freedom, the noose is getting tighter and tighter as they demand more money, more perfectly filled out forms, more obedience.” – Burning Woman
In the run up to the U.S. election I have been fighting with my (male1) friends. They have said things, done things and been caricatures of people who have made me furious. I’ve written post after post about my sadness and anger that people in my inner circle believe Trump is just another choice on the ballot paper. It’s bigger than that. A vote for Trump cannot just be about his ‘politics’ (steeped in ignorance, personal vitriol and vile beliefs). It is a vote for racism, for misogyny, and for oppression. So maybe that’s why Burning Woman strikes a flint with me right now. Because I have caught alight with incendiary passion.
“Anger is the opposite energetic pole of obedience, passivity, submission. Anger shows your inner fire is still burning when someone else tries to define you, to take your power away and destroy what you love” – Burning Woman
Three weeks ago, I released my memoir–Some Never Awaken–which recounts an abusive relationship in my early twenties. The release of a book is usually cause for celebration–especially since it took me another twenty years to summon up the courage to publish it. But that same night I had a vision that my abuser found me and killed me in front of my children; it terrified me. Consequently I haven’t told anyone but Lucy to whom this same book is dedicated, that its been published. Her response was to send me her book. Because the fear that I sometimes barely perceive and other times overwhelms me, I live in, I live with, day in and day out not just because of my own experience but because of how I see it and other ‘lesser’ aggressions towards women2 dismissed and mocked by our society. This has compelled me to keep silent. Still. After all this time.
“…as we get closer to our goals in the real world, we start to hear our fears in stereo: reading criticisms of our work, being attacked or threatened by rivals, facing rejection from those we love and respect. And we know that if we step back, if we walk away it will stop. But we will lose.” – Burning Woman
It’s no coincidence that Trump has been able to get so far on the path towards the presidency of one of the world’s superpowers. Burning Women–as an archetype in our psyche3, not a prescribed gender–are rising in the form of intersectional feminists, queer activists and angry people of colour. We are the rule breakers and we demand that our voices be heard. And as we get stronger, so the forces which suppressed us wage an ever more fierce war. But they cannot stop us. The tools which have been used to oppress us are being revealed within concepts like rape culture and patriarchy. These systems founded on beliefs that inculcate male hierarchy, they poison the air we breathe until we have all died little by little inside, forced, we think, to live and love by them. But we are all responsible for allowing them to continue whether or not you have actively perpetuated it with despicable acts, or passively let it slide because ‘it’s not a big deal’. Many of us, including me, have dared not actively confront such power because we know it will burn the face off of us and our reality will experience an enormous earth shattering shift. Who would dare to be responsible for unleashing such an unknown and potentially horrific consequence? Not me, or at least only me when I am shielded behind the anonymity of my computer. Faceless.
“What is face? It is the persona or mask we have acquired as defence structure against a world we perceive — or have been told — is dangerous. When the patriarchal system refers to defending honour, it really means defending the persona — the projected, public self and reputation — without which we cannot function effectively within the System.” – Burning Woman
To take the step outside of the system means at the very least, social death and often physical death. The risk is too great, until not stepping outside of it is the greater risk. For me that time is now.
We have to step out of the persona of the Good Girl in order to wear the robes of Burning Woman.
And what of men? Where do they fit in my new reality? Sadly many don’t. We do not see eye to eye. They have no love for me nor I for them and I will not expend my power for them. But there are increasingly more who like me, realise that power is not a scarce resource and that trying to horde it like dragons4, only disrespects its true nature and theirs. There are men and people who flow with ever expanding universal power, who demonstrate respect for power by drawing strong yet permeable boundaries around their own responsibility for consciously regenerating it. That permeability allows for our mistakes. But that strength does not let them pass unchecked… Yes. There are men who don’t buy into that long since obsolete alpha male paradigm–the belief that some people, namely ‘othered’ minorities, have less innate power and deserve less conferred power in our society. These men are the burning men. We want you.
You are the devastatingly attractive, formidably beautiful people.
You are the strong, the eternal and the unfettered.
Your power is limitless and I would gladly dance in the fire with you.
I’ve got your backs, just as you have mine. In our new reality there is power enough for everyone and more to infinity; we can bathe in its spray, create ever more and let the flames of it consume us, until we rise as phoenixes reborn together.
“To Lucy. May we give women the knowledge that love doesn’t have to be like this and the courage to leave when it is.” – Some Never Awaken
Buy the Books5
1. Males only and specifically? Cis-males, masculine-identified people, masculine-of-center people of any gender? Assigned male at birth?
2. Same here, at the end of the paragraph, with language: assigned female at birth, read as female, perceived as or actually femme, etc. Gender minorities, even.
3.Excellent clarification that it is an archetype rather than proscribed. You may have to draw this out and explain it in a bit more depth what that means. What is the burning woman? What does it represent precisely? Why is it important? Whether it’s your own summation of the archetype or the author’s definition, please do expand upon this possibility.
4. Socialized men. Men in the cultural sense (which is usually toxic). Additionally, I’m a Dragon, so I’d like to propose an alternative to the hoarder image: The Dragon as the holder of truth. We don’t burn because mean to destroy (as I assume the Burning Woman is also not primarily about destruction). That fire is a purifying fire, a refiner, and those coming forth with less than purity experience the secondary nature of fire – which is to roast away kindling.
5.About Lucy, is she indigenous or otherwise Native? I ask because, while I absolutely love the cover of her book, the Burning Woman appears to be wearing a head dress of some sort. Might be something to consider.