Why "White Feather"?
The white feather first came to me in a shamanic soul retrieval.
It was September 2018. I had just turned 35 and was desperate for answers about my sexuality, my marriage, my lost self. I didn’t know this at the time, but I was looking for my inner Wild Woman—the female archetype Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes of in Women Who Run With the Wolves.
I sat in a straight-backed chair while a shaman fanned sage smudge around the room. She drummed. She sang. She moved her hips like a belly dancer while she summoned the sensual part of my soul back from the ethers.
This was not something I had done before. Ever. It was, in fact, the type of thing I judged other people for doing. I imagined shamans to be old men who lived in caves, only traceable by crow’s feet—not a contemporary, green-eyed woman in leggings who lived on the New Hampshire seacoast. I worried I’d worn the wrong thing. What to people wear to a shaman’s house? Or a soul retrieval? With drums beating off a YouTube channel on her computer, I was utterly skeptical of this process. And yet, I yearned for the freedom on the other side of it.
From my chair, I peeked out of my pretend-closed eyes and bounced my knee up and down, up and down. I vowed never to tell anyone, especially my Catholic husband.
“She’s here,” the shaman said as she shook a rawhide rattle.
“But she—your sensual self—is afraid to come back,” the shaman said. “Tell her you’ll take care of her.”
I looked around as though everyone who had ever known me was watching, judging. And then, desperate not to feel so divorced from myself, I told this soul I could not see that I would take care of her.
“Shhhh,” I whispered as if this part of me were a child. “I will take care of you.”
A Native American woman slowly came into my consciousness, behind closed eyes. She was broad-shouldered, wearing a wheat-colored shawl, tan-skinned. She walked with a sapling staff, assuredly. She was calm and sure and so, so beautiful. In her corn-colored hair, wild and untamed and curly, she wore a single white feather.
“She is here,” the shaman said.
But I already knew.
“Do everything you can to keep her.”
I bathed in the essence of this soul-part-come-back. As the shaman closed the ceremony with a turkey feather, I held the image of this Native woman as delicately as my one-year-old held her first music box.
Later that night, I asked this guide-of-a-woman what her name was. She shook her head.
I was asking the wrong question, I knew, but her ability to exist beyond words confounded me.
Laaayyy-laaaaaa, she whisper-sang back like the breath between pines.
She was a sound, she said. The sound of every woman. I understood then: I was in the presence of the Divine Feminine. An archetype. A woman existing outside of space and time and moniker.
It took many months of therapy, energy healing, and quieting the voices of disbelief to understand that Layla, as I would come to call her, was part of me. That whether I believed in shamanism or not, whether she was real or metaphor, ether or skin, Layla was the part of myself I longed for.
She was a guide.
She was me.
She was every woman longing to come home.
And so the white feather has become the symbol of my inner feminine—my inner woman, my Wild Woman, my La Loba, my girl-in-need-of-mother, my mother, me as mother, my female self. It a symbol I have come to cherish as the silk-strong, flowing strength of my inner feminine—the long-silenced counter to my doing, leading, bush-whacking masculine self. It is a symbol, too, that reminds me I am one of many women who long for a fellowship of spirit: that magic happens, woman-to-woman.
Aside from symbol and vision, the white feather is also, quite literally, a white feather. I bought it at a pow-wow last fall. I was trying to take care of this new woman who resided inside of me. The white feather hairpiece hung from a strap of suede in a craft tent. I paid the five dollars and pinned it in my hair on the ride home. I don’t know how it looked, but I loved how it felt. How I felt light and beautiful. How I felt alive and feminine.
Today I wear a slim, white feather woven in my hair: to the grocery store, to library Story Time with my daughter, to church—especially to church, where my voice often feels stifled. It reminds me, in all contexts, of my inner woman, of my sensual, and feminine self who came back to me. How fragile-strong and airborne and eternal and ancient what I am seeking really is. How easily it can disappear.
The white feather reminds me that the energy of my woman cannot be contained, but must be expressed. It reminds me that on this journey to understand and keep my Wild Woman, my “job” is to just hold space, give permission, allow. That my inner woman resists being domesticated in all the ways that make me feel accomplished, safe, worthy.
That we are free.
The original white feather (pictured at the top of this post) hangs above my desk. It is a hollow-boned challenge and invitation: to write words that are conjured, that emerge, that taste like something.