Embracing Fierceness by Mary Sharratt


maenad dancing with snake

Maenad dancing with snake, ancient Greece, ca 450 BCE

This post is in part inspired by Donna Henes’s brilliant post, I am Mad. Too often as spiritual women, we are told we have to be nice all the time. Accomodating. Compromise our boundaries and principles.

Mainstream religions tell us we must forgive those who mistreat us. Too many women in very abusive situations literally turn the other cheek–to their extreme detriment. As Sherrie Campbell points out in her essay The 5 Faults of Forgiveness, the obligation of forgiveness oppresses survivors of abuse because it makes it all about the perpetrator and not about the healing, dignity, or boundaries of the survivor.

In my own Catholic upbringing I learned to swallow my anger and rage until it erupted in depression and burning bladder infections. My background did not teach me to skillfully dance with anger and it’s been a difficult learning curve for me. But I learned the hard way that owning my anger was crucial if I wanted to stand in my power and speak my truth.

Once when I felt a particularly strong need to break out of a dysfunctional situation, I had a powerful dream of a black snake, as beautiful as it was terrifying. In the course of the dream, I realized that the huge black snake was my own repressed anger, power, and strength. The beautiful inner self longing to be claimed.

black snake

Meek and mild women don’t make history. Hildegard von Bingen, whose feast is coming up on September 17, famously spoke her mind and ferociously stuck up for what she thought was right, famously locking horns with Emperor Barbarossa himself. She also defied her archbishop and suffered an interdict as a consequence, nearly dying an excommunicant. But she was a strong woman who would not be silenced. We should all be so brave and bold.

Claiming our true spiritual power means claiming each part of ourselves, including our fierceness. Our scary side.

Fierceness means embracing our gut wisdom. Voicing the sacred NO to protect ourselves and our loved ones from compromising situations.

I see modern day women like holistic healer Susun Weed embodying this fierceness as she empowers women and girls to recognize the sacredness of their own bodies, the holy mysteries inherent in menstruation, childbirth, and menopause, which are too often pathologized in male-dominated medicine.

Over the years I’ve learned to trust and act on my own inner knowing and discernment. To know when to say NO. By using strong, no bullshit women like Hildegard and Susun Weed as my role models.

Each time I trusted myself enough to act on my gut wisdom, to trust the inner NO, and speak my truth, it has served me well, although it’s sometimes been a painful learning process.

Anger and fierceness wake us up to what is wrong and needs to be changed. There is so much energy in anger that can be harnessed for healing and transformation. Fierceness is the strongest, most protective form of love, the ferocity with which a mother bear defends her cubs.

Coiled inside each one of us is a snake of great power. Let us all dance in our power and strength.

minoan snake goddess

Minoan Snake Goddess, ca 1600 BCE, Knossos, Crete

Mary Sharratt’s book Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen won the 2013 Nautilus Gold Award: Better Books for a Better World and was a 2012 Kirkus Book of the Year. Her forthcoming novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring 2016. Visit her website.

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Categories: Female Saints, General, Women's Agency, Women's Power, Women's Voices

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10 replies

  1. Thanks you Mary, for this very important post. Blessings.

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  2. Hooray for the power to say no! Thanks for writing this. I wish every woman on the planet could read it, contemplate its wisdom, and say no to the bullies and abusers that surround us all.

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  3. Hildegard always seemed to speak from the heart, or gut wisdom, as you say, not from the head. Fierceness also belongs to the heart, because it is as a form of passion.

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  4. I have found the energy of anger over the years and found it was usually aroused appropriately – to protect, to correct injustice, to heal past hurts, to claim myself esteem and worth. As I aged, (I’m 77 now) and met some Buddhist teachers, I realized that anger can cloud my perceptions and hinder effective action. I sat with the idea for awhile, and it seems to me that anger can be transformed into compassion, and that’s what Jesus was talking about when he said to love your enemies. When there is fire in my eyes and smoke coming from my ears, some people are frightened, and there is no hope of dialog. Approaching an adversary with compassion can clear my inner vision.

    I do think there is an occasion for both, tho I must admit that when someone treats me with disrespect or disdain and the fire and smoke show and my words are short, it’s somewhat satisfying to see them back off. Anger is so powerful…I’d love to read how others experience it and how you have changed in expressing anger over the years.

    Loved “Illuminations” btw Mary! :-)

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  5. Thank you so much for your thoughts, Barbara. I absolutely agree on the importance of forgoing the need for revenge and retribution or letting our anger run away with us and block our love. On the other hand, if we automatically judge our anger as being “bad,” we, especially as women, cut ourselves off from a tremendous source of strength, power, and energy. May we all be compassionate while standing in our own power and integrity!

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