Skeleton Woman

I was going to post something else that was on my mind, but I’m going to save it for another day. For some reason, this idea of the Skeleton Woman keeps coming around and I feel like I need to write about her. It’s interesting to me how some themes seem to run through your life, or rather chase you, and this is what the Skeleton Woman is doing to me. She seems to be chasing me just like the man in the story.

bara81

Skeleton Woman

The following is one of my favorite folk tales on the theme of the life, death, rebirth cycle and the presence of Lady Death in all relationships. I think it poetically describes the ebb and flow of all affairs of the heart. This is a modified adaptation of a live version performed by the esteemed Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., Jungian psychologist and storyteller of the old tradition.

There once was a hunter fisherman, who was fishing in a cove far from home, that he didn’t realize was haunted. Looking around and seeing no other kayaks out in the water, he thought, ‘I have this bay all to myself.’ He dropped his bone hook over the side of his kayak and waited. And he was so hungry. And he was so lonely. And he had been hunting and fishing for days on end without finding anything to eat. And so his bone hook went down, down, down, into the deep waters.

Beneath the waters was a skeleton woman, and she lay there on the ocean floor, rolling back and forth with the tide. The bone hook, as it drifted down into the deep waters, caught in her ribcage. Although she tried to move with the currents to disengage herself, the bone hook caught all the more tightly. The fisherman above, felt a tug, and pulled a little more, and saw his fishing stick beginning to bend. ‘Oh’ he thought, ‘I’ve got something really big on the end of this line that’s going to keep me fed for a very long time to come.’ As he pulled harder, Skeleton Woman began to drift to the surface of the water. And as he turned back around with his net to catch his ‘prize’, there she was – hanging off the bow of his kayak, with her long yellow front teeth, and her bald head filled with crustaceans, and sea worms dangling from the nose holes and ear holes of her skull. The fisherman was absolutely terrified! So much so that his ears turned a bright red and met each other at the back of his head. He screamed and paddled fast as he could towards shore. But she was still hooked in her ribcage and so when he paddled and looked back over his shoulder, he saw her standing on tippy-toes racing after him, over the tops of the waters. ‘Oh no!’ he screamed, ‘She is chasing me! She is after me!’ And he arrived at the shore, not a moment too soon and scrambled out of his kayak, grabbed his fishing stick and ran for his life. He looked over his shoulder every few moments and sure enough, she was still keeping up with him. The poor fisherman was running in terror as fast as he could and finally he came to his little skin house and dove inside, into the darkness.

And he thought, ‘At last I am safe.’ He became very still and listened…and the only sound he could hear was his own heart pounding. ‘I must have out run her’, he thought and after a little while just to be certain, he began to make a little fire, because he was so cold. And then, right across from him, flickering in the light there she was! She was still hooked and all in a tangled mess. Her ankles were over her shoulders and one arm was caught in her ribcage and her pelvis was tilted backwards, and her skull was hanging down below her shoulders. He looked at her and something came over him. He looked a little longer, and tried to still his fear. The more he studied her the more he felt sorry for her. She was in such a predicament. Somehow in this tangled mess she didn’t look so frightful as she had before. And he contemplated her…and she did not move. The more he thought about it, she had an almost pitiful, pleading expression.

Like a father would to a child, he reached out and took her ankles down from her shoulders cooing, ‘There , there, that’s better isn’t it? Not so uncomfortable.’ He straightened and untangled her, as he sang a little song, as a father would. And soon she was all straightened out. And she had an odd little tilt to her skull that almost made her look grateful. And he mused, ‘Well, she’s just a skeleton hooked by accident. I’ll leave her be this night and then give her a proper burial in the morning. I’ll try to sleep now, because I’m so very hungry and sleep is my only escape from this hunger. And he fell fast asleep, exhausted by all the excitement and lack of food.

As often happens when we sleep, a little tear escaped from the corner of his eye and began to trickle down his face. Skeleton woman saw this tear glistening there and became very thirsty. And so very quietly, with the slightest of tinkling and rattling of bones, she got on her hands and knees and placed her mouth there and drank deeply. When she saw that he did not awaken, she slid her hand inside his chest and took out his heart. And she raised it like a great drum and began pounding on it. Boom….boom…boom…and she began to sing flesh onto her bones. She sang with the drum of his heart and long, glossy, black hair grew out of her skull and a full, elegant face and fine hips and all the things that a woman needs began to take shape. And when she was done, she slipped the hunter’s heart back inside his chest and looked at him ever so tenderly. She lifted the sleeping skins of his bedding and climbed in underneath and pressed her warm body against his. And they tangled all night long. They wound up more tangled then she had been to begin with. With her legs over his shoulders and all those things that happen when people make love.

And when morning broke, they left together hand in hand. Because she was from the water, they never again went hungry for she had a way of calling the creatures of the sea to her. And people say that if you are ever out when the whole land is white with snow and the sky is also stark white and nothing seems to move; if you look out into the horizon, and can see two tiny black dots bobbing gently, that is skeleton woman and her hunter.

This story has been so enlightening to me. I guess I feel like I am the fisherman in the story, trying to embrace the different phases of my relationship with my husband. Now that I think about it, maybe my husband is my skeleton woman. And maybe I am his…

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