Autumn Archetype

May 2020.  Auspicious times. COVID-19 lock down restrictions are easing here in Australia and Europe. In Celtic earth-based traditions, it is southern hemisphere Samhain: time to settle in for cooler, less-light winter days; to note the passing seasons in the cycle of the year; to prepare for change. According to the old ways, this was the beginning of the new year. Time to gather in, acknowledge life’s gifts with gratitude; to remember our ancestors; to face our fears.

Marking the change of season seems particularly meaningful for me this year, perhaps because the lockdown has settled me firmly in my beautiful natural environment – trees in abundance, clean air, blue sky. (And yes, I realise I am very privileged.) Ancestors, autumn, anxieties link me with the wheel of the year and the seasons of my own life.

Recently I was intrigued to discover that as a post-menopausal woman who is not yet an elder Crone, I fall into the Maga or Queen archetype in the female life cycle.  Archetypes and symbols, myths, folklore and legends are treasure houses for writers. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with them, partly because I wrote a story about a water witch, based on a legend from the Friuli area of Italy where my grandmother was born. The legend had such significant connections to stories my grandmother told about their lives, that it felt like it was my story.

In the literature of female archetypes for a woman’s life, three figures are usually described: Maiden, Mother and Crone corresponding respectively to the child and girl; the mother who births and cares for children (or if childless, she nurtures in other ways); and finally becomes the wise woman reflecting in her life, sharing stories with those who will listen. The Maga or Queen archetype reigns in the autumn season of the life cycle between Mother and Crone. (Thank you, Jen Storer from Girl and Duck for drawing my attention to this development).

Seems with all the baby boomers living well past child-bearing stage and into careers and interests outside of and including the grandmother role, our collective unconscious needed a new persona to typify this emerging phase of women’s lives.  Enter the Maga/Queen ( I think she’s always existed in various incarnations of the work of Jung and others) but she has recently taken firm hold in popular iterations of the female archetypes.

While the Maiden energy is youthful, inquisitive, learning about herself and the world and the Mother energy is about birthing new life, understanding unconditional love and putting the ego aside; the Maga/Queen energy is both grounding and balanced while accessing deep insight and powerful wisdom that can contribute much to our evolving 21st century. Australian naturopath Angel Counsel suggests the word means magic woman or wise woman in Sicilian.  

Image by Valentin Salja on Unsplash
A beautiful hike through the Serbian Kosmaj mountain forest in early, cold spring.

The Queen/Maga feels connected to all life, yet she realises she cannot nurture it all. She must be selective. She is aware that her time is running out. She must set boundaries on energy expended. She realizes she can’t do it all; she must let some things go and she must do what really matters. Her expertise, wisdom and knowledge may benefit many if she chooses to work in the community.

She may feel drawn to focus on her own needs and creativity. I think she possesses what Elizabeth Gilbert describes in Big Magic as a fierce sense of creative entitlement. She writes on p.92 creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that – merely by being here – you are allowed to have a voice and vision of your own.

What a gift is this message to those of us who feel called to write, draw, act, dance, sing, create (any creative endeavour) in the Queen years of our lives. Certainly, we’ve earned the right to be here through our Maiden and Mother experiences, not that we needed to earn it. We were always allowed.  Yet somehow, there’s a knowing in our bones that now is the time.

And how powerful for women at other points on the wheel of life to bring in this Queen energy, whether as a Maiden learning her own thoughts, life purpose and expressing her voice; or the young Mother challenged with conflicting demands of child-rearing (or other kinds of nurturing) and societal expectations; or as a Crone settling into her wisdom, sharing with those who will listen. The Queen teaches all of us how to ask for what is needed, how to say no, how to negotiate boundaries, how to use expertise and influence for good.

And as a Maga what am I to do at this stage of my one wild precious life (Mary Oliver poem). Am I doing what I want to be doing? Am I being who I want to be? Questions for another day, another post.

Remembering Ancestors in the time of Coronavirus

Was it prescience? I made a vision board in January and devoted a chunk of it to intentions to focus on spiritual growth, intuition and meditation. I highlighted the words: wisdom, resilience and growth.

I chose these words because I wanted to add that focus to my life. But as the ancient adage from Aesop’s Fables (circa 260 BC) says: ‘be careful what you ask for.’ Who knew that just two months after gluing those words to the poster, a pandemic would find me digging deep for my own wisdom and resilience? Whether I want to or not, I am going to grow.

I am heartbroken at what is happening in Italy. My father is the son of Italian immigrants who came to Australia in the 1920’s after WW1.

My grandmother Amelia Gandini and my grandfather Giovanni Stroppiana on their wedding day in Mackay, Queensland, Australia, December 1927.

In the last few decades, I have been increasingly drawn to my Italian roots. I connected with a distant relative while my daughter was spending year working and travelling in Italy in 2011. Last year I stayed in Faedis, the small village in Fruili-Venezia-Giulia, where my grandmother was born and lived until she came to Australia in 1927. Now I feel as if half my heart lives in Italy.

To see the heroic efforts of the Italian medical staff; to know the devastating Utilitarian choices they are making to save younger over older lives (and this in a strongly family-orientated culture); to hear the indomitable spirit of people singing from their balconies; all this moves me to tears. A queer sense of pride rises in my blue-sky, brown-land Australian heart for these people, this culture and this country that I claim as part of my heritage.

In the time of coronavirus, I draw strength and resilience from my Italian ancestors. I and my daughters are here partly because of their incredible resilience. My grandmother (Amelia Gandini) was fifteen when the last pandemic l’influenza Spagnola (Spanish Flu)came to Faedis in 1918 just over 100 years ago. She said every family in the village lost at least one person. A vigil would be held in the home with candles. Then when the bells rang in the piazza, she and her brothers and their mother would run up to the church to say Mass.

Santa Maria Assunta Church, Piazza 1 maggio, Faedis Nov 2019. When my
grandmother left in 1927, the church was still being
renovated from a smaller structure
Photograph by James Hills

No-one died in Amelia’s family but her mother (my great-grandmother) became very ill with a high fever for many days and all her hair fell out. This is the same woman who washed clothes for rich people in icy running water for a few lire to feed her family. I’ve seen that icy running water. It’s a beautiful river if you don’t have to wash clothes in it.

Canal del Grive – this is probably where my great-grandmother washed clothes to make a few lire to feed her family. Photograph by James Hills

This is the same woman who tried to take her children to safety when the area came under enemy occupation. She loaded all her children and her chickens on a cart and with her cow, she led them to a friend’s house and supposed safety. I don’t know why this did not work out but a week later she returned to find her home occupied by enemy soldiers. For the remainder of the occupation she lived upstairs with her children and the soldiers were downstairs.

We found this photograph in the WW1 Museum at Kobarid, Slovenia. It was taken during the enemy occupation of Fruili, October 1917. It shows a woman leading two cows drawing a cart with all their supplies, a child on top – exactly as described by my grandmother.

This is the woman who somehow found the means that winter (with the help of Amelia’s brothers who stole and scrounged food wherever they could) to keep her family alive (1917-1918). Amelia said that the soldiers were hungry and cold. They ate all the chickens and the pig and the family’s winter stores. They burnt all the wood stored for winter, then the family’s furniture. These were desperate times. The hardy and resilient – my ancestors – survived.

My great-grandmother Erzegovina Puppini with one of her sons. When her only daughter, my grandmother emigrated to Australia in 1927, she never saw her again.

We all have ancestors who lived through difficult times – wars, pioneering days, economic depression, undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues, chronic ill health, family tragedies, natural disasters, discrimination, racism, injustice, etc. Their blood runs through our veins. Their collective resilience and strength are in us still; their capacity to dig deep, their wisdom and way of being runs in our DNA.Let’s call on these qualities, the gifts of our ancestors to help us through these strange days.

Then we will be able to say, like our young friend in Brescia, in one of the worst affected areas of Italy:

‘We in Italy are all fighting and we won’t give up, never at all. The only thing we can do in this moment is staying at our home. This moment is a kind of opportunity to have time to stay with our families. It is a kind of moment of reconciliation.’  

Which of you ancestors inspire you with their resilience and strength? Comment below.